Parity still runs rampant as we approach the halfway mark of the 2022 NFL season. The three NFC teams with the highest preseason odds to win the Super Bowl – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers – all have losing records and no longer rank inside the top half of the league in these rankings. The Dallas Cowboys have gone from +250 to make the playoffs after Week 1 to now -1900, according to FanDuel. The Carolina Panthers are two missed kicks in Week 8 away from leading the NFC South; instead, they have the third-worst record in the league. Let’s continue to ride the roller coaster together as I sift through all of the madness in The Ringer’s latest power rankings.
The Best of the Best
1. Buffalo Bills (6-1, last week’s ranking: 1)
Josh Allen had some errant throws and two second-half interceptions against the Packers on Sunday Night Football, but it didn’t matter. The Packers trailed 24-7 after the first two quarters and never brought the game within one score after that. FanDuel’s confidence in Allen and the Bills has not wavered. The Bills are a near even money favorite to win the AFC at +125, and Allen has the same odds to win MVP.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (7-0, last week: 2)
A.J. Brown recorded a hat trick with his three touchdown celebrations in the first half, and the Eagles were able to rest their starters with 9:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. Jalen Hurts is playing like a top-five quarterback, Brown and the rest of this supporting cast is among the best in the NFL, and the defense is second in yards per play allowed (4.66). FanDuel has Philadelphia at -270 to be the top-seeded team in the NFC and +195 to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl; it’s their conference to lose.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2, last week: 3)
Believe it or not, Patrick Mahomes has elevated the Chiefs offense without Tyreek Hill. In a league where total completions on throws of 20-plus air yards was down from 349 to 244 through the first seven weeks of the season as compared with 2021, Mahomes has mastered the NFL’s midrange shot. Targeting 10 to 20 yards downfield, Mahomes ranked first in yards per attempt (12.6) and total passing yards (707) before the team’s bye in Week 8. In his first seven games last season, he ranked 29th (8.1) and 22nd (443) in the same statistics, respectively.
Across the board, the NFL is running more two-high looks to limit explosive pass plays down the field, as evidenced by that steep drop-off in completions deep down the field, and Mahomes needed to adjust to a less explosive passing attack in a post-Hill world. He’s done exactly that, and the Chiefs lead the league in nearly every offensive efficiency metric because of it.
Deep Postseason Contenders
4. Baltimore Ravens (5-3, last week: 4)
The Ravens’ dropback passing game remains a concern, but Lamar Jackson and the rushing attack are keeping the offense from cratering. Baltimore ranks first in EPA per rush (0.12) and second in yards before first contact per attempt (2.29). That über-efficient rushing attack has helped the Ravens to double-digit leads in every game they’ve played this season and the league’s third-highest point differential (73) in the first three quarters of games. The price to extend Jackson gets higher every week.
5. Minnesota Vikings (6-1, last week: 5)
Za’Darius Smith told the media that he hates “that people still are not talking about us” after the Vikings’ Week 8 win over the Cardinals. The hesitancy, presumably, revolves around Kirk Cousins. It’s hard to forget his disastrous primetime performance against the Eagles in Week 2, and he’s been far from the league’s most efficient quarterback in obvious passing situations. Cousins’s EPA per dropback average on second, third and fourth downs with seven or more yards to go is the lowest in the NFL at -0.43.
6. Dallas Cowboys (6-2, last week: 8)
The Cowboys are in the running for second-best team in the NFC because Dak Prescott is capable of having performances like he did against the Bears on Sunday. Even with an ugly interception in the final minute of the first half, Prescott ranked second in Week 8 in EPA per dropback (0.52). In just three starts, he is averaging 0.32 EPA per dropback on obvious passing downs (second, third, and fourth downs of 7 yards or more). Cooper Rush averaged minus-0.29 EPA per attempt in the same situations. Prescott elevates the Cowboys’ ceiling to a level Rush couldn’t reach.
7. Miami Dolphins (5-3, last week: 7)
Tua Tagovailoa was bailed out by dropped would-be interceptions against the Steelers in Week 7 but bounced back in a big way on Sunday. He completed more than 80 percent of his passes in a 382-yard, three-touchdown performance against a bad Lions defense in Week 8. Due in large part to the successes of a historic receiving duo in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Tagovailoa now leads the league in EPA per attempt (1.04) and completion percentage (61.0) on throws of 15 or more air yards. Now, EPA doesn’t penalize Tagovailoa for those throws that should have been picked, but Tagovailoa’s efficiency at the helm of Mike McDaniel’s high-powered offense is still among the league’s best.
Flawed Postseason Contenders
8. San Francisco 49ers (4-4, last week: 11)
Christian McCaffrey hit for the cycle with a passing, receiving and rushing touchdown in the 49ers’ 31-14 win over the Rams on Sunday. Already a major focal point of the offense, McCaffrey played on more than 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and led the team in target share (35 percent) in just his second game in a 49ers uniform. He’s exactly what Kyle Shanahan and the Jimmy Garoppolo-led 49ers offense needs: Another positionless player with elite yards-after-catch ability. McCaffrey, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Kyle Juszczyk all raise the ceiling for an offense desperate to limit Garoppolo throwing downfield and into harm’s way. No offense in the NFL averages more yards after the catch per reception (6.91), and Garoppolo ranks first in EPA per attempt on throws made within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He ranks 18th in the same statistic on throws of 10 or more air yards.
9. Seattle Seahawks (5-3, last week: 15)
OK, the sample size is big enough. Geno Smith is playing like a top-10 quarterback, and his offense is one of the best in the NFL. The Seahawks rank seventh in offensive EPA per drive and second in total points scored. FanDuel has moved Seattle’s odds to make the playoffs from +540 prior to the season to +126 entering Week 9, but the movement shouldn’t stop there. The Seahawks’ remaining opponents have a combined win percentage of .441, which is the 27th-lowest in the league.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (4-4, last week: 6)
Life without Ja’Marr Chase is off to a horrendous start in Cincinnati. The Bengals averaged just 3.8 yards per play and scored zero points through three quarters in their 32-13 loss to the Browns on Monday Night Football. Joe Burrow took four sacks and averaged minus-0.45 EPA per dropback in those same three quarters. No late surge from the offense was going to overcome the punch in the mouth they took early against Cleveland, and the Bengals can’t afford to have many more performances like this with or without Chase.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3, last week: 10)
Justin Herbert is 19-20 as a starter, but that record is a bigger indictment of the offensive scheme and supporting cast than it is of him. Plagued with injuries and bereft of field-stretching speed, Joe Lombardi’s offense is overtly targeting the underneath areas of the field at a sky-high rate.
No quarterback has a lower average depth of target on early downs than Herbert, and as a result the Chargers’ success rate on first and second downs ranks 25th. Lombardi and Herbert need to come out of the bye week with fewer personnel excuses and more positive changes to the offense to get back on track.
12. New York Giants (6-2, last week: 9)
The Giants have entered the fourth quarter with a lead just once this season. Relying on fourth-quarter magic to secure wins finally caught up to them against the Seahawks on Sunday, when they were outscored 14-3 in the final 15 minutes and lost just their second game this year. They rank 23rd in point differential in the first three quarters of games (minus-19); the Jets are the only team ranked lower with a winning record. Fumbled punt returns and other random miscues will cost the Giants wins for as long as they struggle to gain and maintain leads early in games.
13. Tennessee Titans (5-2, last week: 17)
Rookie Malik Willis threw a pick and completed six passes for 55 yards in his first career start on Sunday, but the Titans still managed to pull out the win. He has Derrick Henry to thank for that. Willis told reporters that Henry said “they can’t stop me” at one point during the game, and he wasn’t wrong. Henry rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries against the Texans, tying O.J. Simpson and Adrian Peterson for the most 200-yard games in NFL history with six. It’s important that starter Ryan Tannehill gets healthy so the Titans don’t have to be one-dimensional offensively, but it’s also reassuring for Tennessee fans to know that Henry can lead the charge when he has to.
On the Bubble
14. Denver Broncos (3-5, last week: 20)
The Broncos gave Russell Wilson a $245 million contract to make throws like his 47-yard rainbow ball down the right sideline to KJ Hamler when they were trailing the Jags in the fourth quarter on Sunday. That type of play was rare in the first few weeks of the season. That Hamler went from end-of-game meltdown to end-of-game celebration on Wilson’s back is a spark of positivity the Broncos have been desperate for since their last win in Week 3. Sunday wasn’t Wilson’s best game this season nor the defense’s, but it’s enough to keep the Broncos within reach of a playoff berth. Hopefully the team will get less exercise and more sleep on the flight home from London.
15. New England Patriots (4-4, last week: 21)
The Patriots secured a much-needed win over the Jets on Sunday, but the offense remains hamstrung by poor quarterback play from Mac Jones. Only two starting quarterbacks have a negative EPA per attempt average on throws at or beyond the first down marker in 2022: Jones and rookie Kenny Pickett. Jones also ranks 28th in EPA per dropback (-0.28) on second, third, and fourth downs with seven or more yards to go before the first. The winning formula for New England right now is to force turnovers on defense and find success running the football with Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. That might be enough to clinch a postseason berth but leave them as heavy underdogs against AFC powerhouses like the Bills and Chiefs.
16. New York Jets (5-3, last week: 13)
It’s not a secret that Zach Wilson hasn’t played well this season. Only Kenny Pickett, Davis Mills, and Baker Mayfield have a lower EPA per dropback than Wilson through eight weeks. But even if we take Wilson’s stance and throw the stats out the window, plays like his third-quarter sideline throwaway turned interception and the fourth-quarter pick thrown into quadruple coverage simply can’t happen if the Jets are going to turn their 5-3 start into a postseason run. FanDuel’s Jets playoff odds shifted from +144 to +240 following the team’s home loss against the Patriots in Week 8.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5, last week: 14)
The Buccaneers have the worst rushing attack in the NFL, and they know it. Only the Colts have a lower EPA-per-rush average, and no team runs the ball less than the Bucs, who call rushes on just 31.6 percent of their offensive plays. And when the Bucs do try to run the ball, it isn’t going well: The Bucs’ RBs are last in yards after contact. Opposing defenses are playing a high percentage of two-high safety pre-snap looks and light boxes as a result, putting a low ceiling on Tom Brady and the Bucs’ passing attack. Brady, unsurprisingly, is making all of the headlines as he falls two games under .500 for the first time in his Hall of Fame career, but not all of the Bucs’ biggest problems involve him.
18. Green Bay Packers (3-5, last week: 16)
No, Rich Eisen, there isn’t a lot to hang your cheesehead on right now. Trailing 24-7 against the Bills at the start of the third quarter, the Packers found success on the ground only because Buffalo—which opted for plenty of two-high safety defensive looks—let them. Rookie receivers Samori Toure and Romeo Doubs both had stellar downfield touchdown receptions, but the Packers’ down-to-down passing attack still feels like pulling teeth. Green Bay also has the seventh-hardest remaining schedule in terms of combined winning percentage for opponents. There were no moral victories for the Packers on Sunday night, and there will be no postseason for them, either, if they don’t record some actual victories soon.
19. Los Angeles Rams (3-4, last week: 12)
Sean McVay fell to 3-9 against Kyle Shanahan after losing to the 49ers, 31-14, in Week 8. McVay also had an extra week to prepare for the game with the bye and his team was playing at home. YIKES.
Making matters worse for McVay is that his offense is largely the issue. Los Angeles ranks 30th in total completions of 15-plus air yards (14), and quarterback Matthew Stafford ranks 31st in EPA per dropback on second, third, and fourth downs with seven or more yards to go for the first. There’s excuses for that, of course. The offensive line is injury-plagued and struggling in pass protection, and the receiving corps lacks top-end speed. But McVay, one of the league’s best offensive minds, doesn’t get excuses in a league where offenses with significantly less talent (e.g. Browns, Falcons, Giants) all rank inside the top-12 in offensive EPA per drive. McVay has to improve the offensive efficiency regardless of the team’s limitations.
20. Atlanta Falcons (4-4, last week: 22)
To the chagrin of disappointed Kyle Pitts managers in fantasy football, the NFC South’s first-place Falcons rank sixth in offensive EPA per drive (0.34) because of their commitment to a creative rushing attack and shot plays off of play action. Atlanta runs the ball at the second-highest rate in the NFL and calls play-action on a league-leading 47.9 percent of their dropbacks. Their defense, especially without A.J. Terrell for most of the last two weeks, is still one of the worst in the league, but the Falcons are a tough out every week because of the success Arthur Smith is dialing up offensively.
21. Cleveland Browns (3-5, last week: 28)
Jacoby Brissett deserves more respect for the job he’s done as a stand-in starter for the Browns. He benefits from having Nick Chubb and a top-three rushing attack, but he also ranks inside the top half of the league in EPA per dropback and yards per attempt—a strong eight-week stretch for a player who ranked 31st in The Ringer’s preseason QB rankings. The fact that he isn’t the reason Cleveland is losing games and is actually capable of leading his team to a 32-13 win over the Bengals on Monday Night Football justifies overdue praise at this point in the season.
22. Arizona Cardinals (3-5, last week: 18)
The Call of Duty jokes are great, but Kyler Murray doesn’t play defense. The Cardinals rank 32nd in defensive success rate (50.9) and 31st in points allowed (210). The secondary is giving up too many explosive plays downfield, and the front seven is one of the league’s most porous units against the run. Now +570 to make the playoffs according to FanDuel, Murray’s defense should leave him with a video game controller in hand in early January.
23. Washington Commanders (4-4, last week: 26)
Taylor Heinicke playing as well as he did against the Colts is exactly why the Commanders should have never traded for Carson Wentz this offseason. Both quarterbacks aren’t long-term answers at the position, but Heinicke didn’t cost the Commanders multiple draft picks and $28 million in 2022. There’s no obvious way forward with the Commanders’ quarterback situation beyond this season, but one thing is for sure: Terry McLaurin is one of the team’s few premier talents. He has clutch fourth-quarter catches in back-to-back wins now with Heinicke at the helm, including a surreal contested snag over Stephon Gilmore to set up the go-ahead score in Week 8.
Long-Shot Playoff Hopefuls
24. New Orleans Saints (3-5, last week: 27)
Dennis Allen took his defense to a level we haven’t seen this season in a revenge game against the Raiders, the team that fired him as head coach in 2014. Entering Week 8, the Saints ranked 31st in yards allowed and last in points allowed. Against a Raiders offense that ranked second in offensive EPA per drive going into the game, Allen orchestrated a shutout. Making dominant defensive displays like this the norm is paramount for Allen and the Saints to gain control of an ailing NFC South.
25. Las Vegas Raiders (2-5, last week: 19)
Week 8 couldn’t have gone worse for the Raiders. They didn’t run an offensive play in Saints territory until after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter—after Derek Carr had been benched for Jarrett Stidham while trailing 24-0. Playoff teams don’t have games like that.
26. Chicago Bears (3-5, last week: 23)
The Bears have just one win in the last five weeks, but Justin Fields and the offense have still shown significant improvement during that stretch of games. The Chicago rushing attack has thrived with more designed quarterback runs for Fields, and he’s improved his EPA per dropback from 28th in Weeks 1-4 to 13th in Weeks 5-8. They haven’t improved enough to warrant postseason consideration, but Fields is making his case for the Bears to spend their league-leading $116 million in cap space in 2023 on support for him in the offense.
27. Indianapolis Colts (3-4-1, last week: 24)
The Colts made a change at quarterback but everything about the offense still felt similar. Indy ran the ball at the highest rate they have all season in Sam Ehlinger’s first game as the starter, but didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter. Time will tell if Ehlinger picks up more starts in place of veteran Matt Ryan, but it’s unlikely things improve enough for the Colts to make the postseason. The preseason favorites to win the AFC South are now +320 to make the playoffs at all.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6, last week: 25)
The Jaguars have lost five straight games, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it: Trevor Lawrence is a big reason why. Since Week 4, no starting quarterback ranks lower in EPA + CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) composite than Lawrence, per RBSDM.com. The rates at which he turns the ball over, takes sacks, and throws inaccurate passes are all among the highest in the league. Such inefficiency has made it near impossible for the Jags to claw out wins in one-score games. Jacksonville hasn’t lost by more than eight points in any of the losses they’ve suffered since Week 4, but they’re not dealing with horseshoes and hand grenades. Almost winning in each of the last five weeks still has the Jags at 2-6 at the halfway mark of the season, and FanDuel now has their postseason odds at +500. Lawrence needs to go on a hell of a run to put the Jaguars back in the postseason hunt, and that starts with avoiding ugly game-ending interceptions.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6, last week: 29)
The Steelers offense is hard to watch. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is a nightmare anytime he pushes the ball more than 10 yards downfield, and lead back Najee Harris ranks 26th in yards after contact per rush (2.66). The result? Pittsburgh ranks 32nd in offensive EPA per drive (minus-0.69) and 30th in total points (120). Mike Tomlin will need an offensive miracle to right this ship.
Bottom of the Barrel
30. Carolina Panthers (2-6, last week: 31)
The Panthers should have won in Week 8. PJ Walker threw one of the best passes of the year to D.J. Moore in the end zone to tie the Falcons 34-34 with 12 seconds to play in regulation. Moore celebrated the touchdown by taking his helmet off, drawing a 15-yard penalty and leading to a missed 48-yard PAT attempt. Kicker Eddy Pineiro missed another kick in overtime. But that all might have been the best-case scenario for Carolina. The Panthers have been playing inspired football since the firing of Matt Rhule but are still slotted to pick third in the 2023 NFL draft after a 2-6 start to the season. For a rebuilding team without a long-term answer at quarterback, competitive losses are wins.
31. Detroit Lions (1-6, last week: 30)
After scoring six total points in their last two games, the Lions scored 27 first-half points and built a 10-point lead over the Dolphins on Sunday. Then they collapsed. Detroit didn’t convert a third down, enter the red zone, or score another point in the second half. The offense was plagued by penalties and drops that forced Jared Goff into obvious passing situations on second and third downs, something that remains the Achilles heel for Detroit. Goff ranks 25th in EPA per dropback on second, third, and fourth downs where the distance to the first is more than 6 yards. The Lions are very comfortably in the CJ Stroud–Bryce Young sweepstakes.
32. Houston Texans (1-5-1, last week: 32)
Texans fans were scouting college quarterbacks even before the season, and nothing has happened since to change that. Davis Mills is second to last in EPA per dropback and leads a Houston offense that ranks 31st in total yards per game even with rookie running back Dameon Pierce exceeding expectations. Defensively, the Texans rank 30th in yards allowed per play; only the Falcons and Lions rank lower. Losing enough games to secure the no. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft should be the team’s priority.