Miami Dolphins Schedule: 5 Most Interesting Storylines

The Miami Dolphins schedule was released last week, and there are several interesting matchups for Mike McDaniel and company.

Miami Dolphins Schedule
Credit: Sam Navarro, USA Today

The Miami Dolphins schedule was released last week, and it is riddled with interesting matchups. The Dolphins are getting two primetime games, along with several more that may be nationally televised. Following their trade for star acquisitions, many view the Dolphins as playoff contenders. Thus, their schedule has five key storylines to look out for.

Tua vs. Herbert and Burrow

The Miami Dolphins hold matchups against the Bengals and Chargers, the former of which being on Thursday Night Football. These three teams have been tied together for over two years, when they were all competing for the number one pick and the rights to Joe Burrow, who went to Cincinnati.

Miami, of course, selected Tua Tagovailoa soon after, passing on Justin Herbert, who has looked stellar with the Chargers. In a “do or die” year for Tua, it’s important to see how his progress stacks up with the fellow quarterbacks of the 2020 draft.

Brian Flores Returns to Miami

Following the conclusion of Miami’s 2021 season, the Dolphins opted to fire Brian Flores. A combination of friction with personnel and a lack of production on the offensive side of the ball caused Miami to look in another direction. However, this was called into question when Flores filed a lawsuit against the team and the rest of the NFL.

Flores alleged several teams of racially motivated hiring and interviewing practices, and accused the Dolphins of offering him incentives to lose games in 2019.

Unable to find a job in this cycle as a head coach, Flores joined the Steelers as a linebackers coach. Coaching Mike Tomlin’s star-studded defense, Flores will make his return to Miami on Sunday Night Football in Week 7.

Deshaun Watson in Hard Rock Stadium

The most prominent factor in Miami Dolphins schedule for early on is facing the Cleveland Browns. The constant rumors about a Deshaun Watson trade. It loomed over the team for a large portion of the year, and former coach Brian Flores refused to refute any potential trades. Thus, the pressure was on Tua Tagovailoa, with the constant worry of not having his job in the coming weeks.

Following the trade deadline, the weight seemed to be lifted from Tagovailoa’s shoulders. He performed significantly better and led Miami on a seven-game winning streak.

With Miami’s new staff putting forth full confidence in Tagovailoa, they backed out of the Watson sweepstakes. The controversial quarterback was traded to the Cleveland Browns and leads one of the most talented rosters in the NFL.

Many looked at Watson, Jacoby Brissett, and Jakeem Grant, as three players that would be in Miami in 2022. However, all three are on Cleveland together and will come down to Hard Rock to face the Dolphins in Week 10.

Mike McDaniel Revenge Game

Following the firing of former coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins figured that they needed someone who could change the game on offense. Thus, they hired San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who comes from Kyle Shanahan’s elite outside zone scheme.

McDaniel took several staff members from San Francisco on his trip to the east coast. Namely, receivers coach Wes Welker (who played for the Dolphins) and tight ends coach Jon Embree. These three, along with other assistants, will go back to their old stomping grounds in Week 13. Miami will fly to San Francisco where McDaniel will meet his mentor, and potentially show him that he was ready to move on.

Beating the Bills

When Tom Brady left New England to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a power vacuum in the AFC East opened up. Each team made aggressive attempts to get better with hopes of taking over in the division. Miami and Buffalo, namely, have made vast changes to their teams over the last couple of years.

Now Miami fans (and Buffalo fans) circle their calendars every time the Miami Dolphins schedule drops.

However, the Bills have been much more successful in their approach. Making timely additions of Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and other contributors have vaulted them to the top of the East. Miami, on the other hand, has been on the outside looking in.

This has largely been in part to the matchups between the two teams. Miami hasn’t beat the Bills since 2018, when Adam Gase as their head coach. It is up to Mike McDaniel and company to change this if they are to contend for a title in the coming years. They face the Bills in Weeks 3 and 15.

NFL Week 14 Power Rankings

NFL Week 14 power rankings
Adrian Kraus – AP Photo

In the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings, things are starting to get a little crazy. Don’t kill me. I understand it looks weird to have teams ranked below teams they’ve beaten. But, everyone is beating everyone this year. Nothing is clear this year, so lets do the best we can. This is how I see the NFL’s power structure ahead of Week 14.

32. Detroit Lions (1-10-1)

Last Week: 32

I’m so happy for Dan Campbell that he finally got that elusive first win in Detroit. And it came against a division rival vying for a playoff spot no less! Still, the Lions have buried themselves so far behind the pack. One win isn’t going to be enough to get me to change my mind about them being ranked last in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)

Last week: 31

Being the “get right” team is never a fun position to be in. The Jacksonville Jaguars are so hard to watch right now. And the last month or so they can’t even feel good about “at least we’re not the Lions.” How long must they endure the obviously poor decision that is the Urban Meyer era? Does he get another season? At this point, it’s about the only thing worth asking about.

30. Houston Texans (2-10)

Last Week: 30

The Texans’ pathetic effort against the Colts this week is worthy of a fall in the Week 14 Power Rankings. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really justify putting them below a Jaguars team they’ve handily beaten this season and a Lions team that literally JUST got it’s first win. But, mark my words, Texans. Another performance like that could have you in the basement before long.

29. New York Jets (3-9)

Last Week: 29

It seems like Week 13 was the week of bad teams actually playing like bad teams. The bright side is Zach Wilson looked decently competent this week. You still don’t like to see his best performances being slightly above league average. But, the Jets have to take their wins where they can get them right now. They’re sure not getting them from their results.

28. Atlanta Falcons (5-7)

Last Week: 26

Our first mover of the Week 14 Power Rankings, the Falcons looked cooked against the Bucs. They kept things close in the first half, partly due to a well-timed pick six. But, they looked absolutely gassed in the second. I thought this could potentially be an upset because of the flashes the Falcons have seen this season. But, any chance of sneaking into a playoff spot took a major hit with this week’s loss.

27. New York Giants (4-8)

Last Week: 25

It’s hard to feel good about anything going on in New Jersey right now. For the Giants specifically, add Daniel Jones to the list of players missing significant time due to injury. Mike Glennon started in his stead this week. But, he didn’t stand a chance behind that sad excuse for an offensive line. Sounds like former Bills practice squad quarterback Jake Fromm is expected to get the start this week. So, that’s not good.

26. Chicago Bears (4-8)

Last Week: 24

Andy Dalton SZN has taken full effect in Chicago. Of course, as a Bengals fan, I’m very familiar with exactly what the Bears are dealing with right now. He looked like a pretty good quarterback this week except the part where he threw four interceptions. Yeah. Four. That reverse bootleg that nearly resulted in a massive sack that Dalton ended up turning into a big play was pretty cool. But, bad Andy always rears his head eventually.

25. New Orleans Saints (5-7)

Last Week: 22

Once a team that I considered to be a likely playoff team, I’m now certain the New Orleans Saints won’t make it. Sure, they’re only a game behind the No. 7 seed San Francisco 49ers. But, Taysom Hill is a disaster. It felt weird to feel like the Saints’ season was over because they lost Jameis Winston. But, it’s looking more and more like that’s an accurate assessment every week.

24. Seattle Seahawks (4-8)

Last Week: 27

With five games left to play in the season, it seems like the Seahawks being two games behind a playoff spot is pretty insurmountable. Then again, the 49ers control that last spot and the Seahawks just beat them. Seattle always gives the Niners trouble. But, crazier comebacks have happened before. No, I don’t think the Seahawks are going to turn things around this year. But, if they were going to, beating the 49ers would be a great way to start.

23. Carolina Panthers (5-7)

Last Week: 23

The Carolina Panthers enjoyed a nice bye week this week, so they’re not moving in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. They remain only a game behind in the Wild Card race. So, considering the talent this team has, you wouldn’t be terribly shocked to see them sneak in. Well, other than the fact that they still have to play the Bills and Bucs twice in their last five games.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1)

Last Week: 28

Man, you have to give the Steelers credit. Just when you think they’re dead and buried, the corpse of Ben Roethlisberger finds a way to continue haunting the NFL. The Steelers might have been totally embarrassed by the Bengals and are clearly worse than their 6-5-1 record indicates. But, perhaps they’re also a little underrated. They can still beat talented teams like the Ravens when things go right for them. I doubt they’ll end up in the playoffs. But, they’re still very much alive.

21. Denver Broncos (6-6)

Last Week: 20

Ok, so maybe the rumors of the Broncos’ demise haven’t been greatly exaggerated. They looked lost against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that was obviously worthy of the primetime flex. You know. For all those fans who love one-sided low-scoring games. I’m not ready to give up on the Broncos’ playoff hopes just yet. But, they’re currently the No. 12 seed in the AFC. They have a lot of catching up to do.

20. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)

Last Week: 16

You’re telling me the Vikings followed up arguably their best win of the year with a choke against the 49ers and a complete dud against the worst team in football? Yeah that checks out. The Vikings are so inconsistent, I don’t even know if they know who they are. Mike Zimmer is going to need to figure it out real quick or he’ll be back to a defensive coordinator role somewhere in the NFL next season.

19. Miami Dolphins (6-7)

Last Week: 21

I’m not terribly impressed by the quality of opponent the Dolphins have been beating lately as they try to make an improbable playoff run. Luckily for them, their schedule stays easy over the next three weeks. They’ll likely need to win out to have any legitimate hope at stealing the No. 7 seed away in the AFC. But, they’re currently on a 5-game win streak. Stranger things have happened. Although, beating both the Titans and Patriots in the final two games of the season would definitely be up among the weirdest things I’ve seen.

18. Cleveland Browns (6-6)

Last Week: 18

The Browns got a little bit of help on their bye week with the top two teams in the AFC North both losing. They’re still very much alive in the playoff race and it sounds like they’re getting some of their better players back. That’s not what you want to see if you’re one of their upcoming opponents.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

Last Week: 20

Gardner Minshew once again proved to be one of the best non-franchise quarterbacks in the league this week as he led a Jalen Hurts-less Eagles team to a dominating win over the Jets. He was efficient and unflappable, finishing with a 133.7 passer rating. His career might end up looking like Ryan Fitzpatrick’s when it’s all over, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

16. Las Vegas Raiders (6-6)

Last Week: 13

The Raiders are now losers of three out of four since the bye week. I don’t know if the distractions from a few weeks ago are still to blame for the inconsistent performances. But, they’ll need to pull off a strong finish if they want any hope of turning this broken season into something worth remembering. For now, they fall to the mid-point of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

15. San Francisco 49ers (6-6)

Last Week: 14

Just when I started to believe the 49ers might have found something special they go out and fail to get it done against the Seahawks. Then again, they tend to do that a lot throughout their history. So, I’m not reading too much into this loss yet. Lets see how they come to play the next few weeks. Games against the Bengals and Titans in two of their next three will tell us what this team is really made of.

14. Washington Football Team (6-6)

Last Week: 17

The Taylor Heinicke renaissance is real. Even if Ryan Fitzpatrick was expected to play again in 2021, I don’t think he would get his job as the starter back. Heinicke has helped this team go from bottom feeders to the top 14 of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. You read that right. The Washington Football Team is now a playoff team based off of 14 weeks of action. They don’t have much breathing room behind them. But, they do control their own destiny and could end up one game behind the division championship with an upset over the Cowboys next week.

13. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

Last Week: 15

Jonathan Taylor and co. were expected to beat the Texans, but sutting them out on the road by 31 points is still impressive. Also, yes, it’s definitely Jonathan Taylor and co. He’s an MVP candidate for a reason. His 143 yards and two touchdowns probably weren’t the difference in this specific game. But, he has been in so many for the Colts this year. They’re 7-6, in the thick of the playoff race, and in the top 14 of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings because of him.

12. Baltimore Ravens (8-4)

Last Week: 9

Have you ever seen a more wishy washy team with a record among the best in the NFL? I have. It was the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers. But, aside from that, the 2021 Baltimore Ravens are a prime example. They don’t really deserve to be 8-4 the way they’ve been playing this year. To their credit, they are, and that’s what will matter to the final standings. But, games like this stinker against the Steelers show why many struggle to consider them a serious contender.

11. Buffalo Bills (7-5)

Last Week: 10

A few weeks ago it looks like the Bills were poised to run away with the AFC East this year. Then, the sleeping giant that is the New England Patriots woke up. The Bills were unable to maintain their course despite the hot start and now they’re decidedly in second place. How could this have happened? I thought the years of Patriots domination was over. This was supposed to be a new era in Buffalo! Nope. Just more bowing to Bill Belichick.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

Last Week: 6

Two steps forward, one step back. Bengals fans shouldn’t be completely dejected after that game. After all, coming back from a 24-0 deficit to almost retake the lead was pretty impressive. But, they didn’t, and getting down 24-0 in the first place is a symptom of a greater problem for the Bengals right now. For now, they’re right on the edge of the top 10 in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

9. Los Angeles Rams (8-4)

Last Week: 11

I can’t say blowing out the Jaguars isn’t exactly a reason for a boost in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. But, a win’s a win no matter who the opponent is. Plus, with other teams falling out of the top 10, the Rams had nowhere to go but up. I want to see what they can do in their final five games, which look decently tough. Cardinals, Seahawks, Vikings, Ravens, 49ers isn’t exactly a juggernaut schedule. But, we should learn if this Rams team is legit or not based on what they can do with that.

8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5)

Last Week: 12

The Chargers end their exile from the top 10 of the Week 14 Power Rankings with a win over last week’s No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals. They went into Cincinnati with what turned out to be a pretty good gameplan. They almost chargered it up in the middle of the game by blowing a 24-0 lead. But, they took advantage of some key opportunities in clutch moments and came away with a pretty convincing 41-22 victory.

7. Tennessee Titans (8-4)

Last Week: 7

The Titans probably did enough early in their season to be comfortably in control of the AFC South. With a relatively easy schedule to finish the season, they shouldn’t feel any pressure from the suddenly hot Colts for the division title. Anything is possible, but the Colts are a game and a half back so it would take a pretty surprising collapse at this point for the Titans to not run away with their division. Then again, maybe they should be focusing on the No. 1 seed right now and not being remotely healthy could cause issues with that.

6. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)

Last Week: 8

It’s been a rough month for this Cowboys team that has only won two games since their hot 6-1 start. They look like they may have taken advantage of an opportunity to get right against a struggling Saints team. But, all of the sudden the Washington Football Team is knocking on the door for the NFC East title. For now, the Cowboys remain in an elevated position in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. But, it could be different going into Week 15 if they don’t handle business against Washington.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)

Last Week: 5

Tom Brady threw four touchdowns against a Falcons team that I thought might be poised to give them some trouble this week. They didn’t. They seemingly had no answer for Russell Gage. But, other than that, the Bucs went ahead to 9-3. No. 5 might actually be too low considering they’re one of only four teams with no more than three losses.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)

Last Week: 4

The Chiefs convincingly beat the Broncos on Sunday Night Football and are now in pretty clear control of what has been a wonky year for the AFC West. Unfortunately, it’s tough to give them a boost in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings because they’re already up so high. I think their results are finally starting to catch up to where I’ve had them on the Power Rankings all year. This is why I never knocked them down too low. You can never count Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs out to completely fall off the map. Now that they’ve hit their stride, the rest of the AFC should be taking notice.

3. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

Last Week: 3

Not much movement here at the top of the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. The Cardinals beat Andy Dalton and the Bears pretty convincingly. Which was nice. But, I can’t say they deserved to displace any of the other top 3 teams for that performance. The good thing is Kyler Murray is back and the Cardinals appear to be getting healthy at the right time. Personally, I’m really excited to see what this team can do in the playoffs.

2. Green Bay Packers (9-3)

Last Week: 2

A nice bye week to sit back, reflect, and get healthy is really what the Packers needed at this point. That said, they’ve proven they don’t need all of their starters to find success this year. That’s why they’ve been so high in the Power Rankings all season. And, that’s why they continue to feature so highly in the Week 14 NFL Power Rankings.

1. New England Patriots (9-4)

Last Week: 1

The Patriots head into their bye week with a really nice win over the Buffalo Bills. It wasn’t super high scoring, but they proved they can be the better team in all phases of the game against anyone. I really don’t think there is any team currently looking better in the NFL. For that reason, they’re at the top spot in my Week 14 NFL Power Rankings. They will continue to stay here until someone gives me a reason to believe that will change.

Week 9 NFL Power Rankings

Week 9 NFL Power Rankings
Joe Scarnici – Getty Images

In the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings, we’ve got a ton of movement! A bunch of last week’s top 10 teams had super rough weeks. Teams we dismissed a few weeks ago are starting to show signs of life. Hell, even the Jets are starting to look like they’re doing something right. The Week 9 NFL Power Rankings will probably look as ridiculous as any other week as early as next week. But, that’s part of the fun!

32. Detroit Lions (0-8)

Last Week: 32

Another week, another game where the Lions nearly get shut out in their own stadium. This time, instead of the upstart Cincinnati Bengals, it’s against the lowly Philadelphia Eagles. The wheels came off this train a long time ago. But, the walls are starting to come down now too. You have to imagine they’ll get a win eventually though… right? They can’t be the first 0-16 team AND the first 0-17 team can they?

31. Houston Texans (1-7)

Last Week: 31

A 22-point garbage time explosion doesn’t really do justice to how lopsided of a contest this was. Ka’imi Fairbairn’s missed 45-yard field goal as the second quarter expired was a perfect encapsulation of just how much of a disaster that first half was. The Texans are starting to show just how dysfunction their organization truly is. They couldn’t even move Deshaun Watson before the trade deadline. What a mess. 

30. Miami Dolphins (1-7)

Last Week: 30

It really feels like the Dolphins should be penalized in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings for another loss. But, it’s pretty difficult to fall much further than they already have. At least they were mildly more competitive in their blowout loss this week than the Texans and Lions. I’ll give them some credit for having the good sense not to trade for Watson though. You made your bed with Tua, now sleep in it.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)

Last week: 28

Many an NFL team have taken advantage of a Seattle Seahawks team featuring Geno Smith at quarterback this season. The Jacksonville Jaguars proved their ineptness by letting him blow them out. Yes, Seattle is one of the toughest stadiums to play in. But, man, the Jags weren’t even competitive until their second-to-last drive of the game. Even then the defense still couldn’t make a stop to make it remotely interesting. But hey, at least there’s teams worse than them.

28. Washington Football Team (2-6)

Last Week: 25

The Washington defense finally had a pretty decent game… against the Broncos. Washington joins the Jets, Giants, and Jags as the only teams in a bad enough spot this year to lose to the Broncos. Not exactly company you want to be mentioned with.

27. New York Giants (2-6)

Last Week: 27

I was going to give the Giants credit in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings for playing their hearts out against a vastly more talented opponent. That is, until Daniel Jones did the most Daniel Jones thing ever and fumbled the ball on the final drive. Billy Price recovered the fumble to save catastrophe. But, then, he ran for about a one-yard gain with 15 yards to go and slid to avoid contact. Like he does know that basically ends the game, right? Why did you bother recovering the fumble if you’re just going to turn the ball over on downs without even trying to advance the ball? Giants gonna Giant.

26. New York Jets (2-5)

Last Week: 29

What even is this team? They’ve been embarrassed virtually every week they’ve played this year. Except, when they play top-10 teams. The Jets started Mike White in place of the injured Zac Wilson this week and he didn’t miss a beat. In fact, his 405 yards and three touchdowns would be a career day for most quarterbacks in the NFL. So, it seems the Jets are in good hands while Wilson recovers. Are they out of purgatory though? Time will tell, but it only took them seven games to equal their win total from last year.

25. Atlanta Falcons (3-4)

Last Week: 27

Just when you start feeling good about the Falcons… they pull the rug right out from under you. Then again, I guess that’s what it means to be a Falcons fan, huh? The Falcons fought their way back to .500 last week only to basically not show up in their own stadium against the Panthers this week. Carolina comes out looking like the team that could possibly turn things around, and Atlanta looks ready to go back to the basement.

24. Denver Broncos (4-4)

Last Week: 24

The Broncos did it! They finally won a game after failing to do so for an entire month! So, why aren’t they moving up in the Week 9 Power Rankings, you ask? Well, they really just confirmed what we already knew about them. They’re good enough to beat the bad teams, but still haven’t shown they can compete with anyone else. And what was that offensive performance? They made a WFT defense that has been extremely disappointing all season look stifling. And now they’re trading Von Miller to the Rams? I almost want to drop them, actually.

23. Chicago Bears (3-5)

Last Week: 20

That was an amazing run by Justin Fields! Seriously, I could see that play going down as one of those highlights that gets replayed endlessly on NFL Network every time this team is mentioned in a positive light. Problem is, all this game did was confirm that Justin Fields won’t save the Bears. Yes, he’s talented, but he’s in an awful position. The Bears take a slide in the Week 9 NFL Power rankings largely because of the way they completely collapsed in the fourth quarter.

22. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)

Last Week: 26

I know it’s just the Lions. But, still, winning 44-6 on the road is a hell of an accomplishment, regardless of the opponent. They weren’t able to complete the shutout when Jared Goff managed to get a garbage time touchdown in the fourth quarter. But, the Eagles wouldn’t be the first team to fall just short of a shutout in Detroit this year. It’s been a rough year for a rebuilding Eagles team, but at least we know they can still dominate bad teams.

21. Seattle Seahawks (3-5)

Last Week: 22

The Seahawks beat the Jaguars handily in their own stadium. Yawn. Any win in the NFL is a good win, especially a dominating one like that. So, I’ll give the Seahawks credit with a boost in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings. But, until Russell Wilson comes back, I don’t see much potential for this team.

20. Indianapolis Colts (3-5)

Last Week: 19

It was a good effort for the Colts this week. Unfortunately, the defense had no answer for AJ Brown. That said, the Colts probably could have won this game if Carson Wentz hadn’t melted down on the final four drives. Yes, he connected with Michael Pittman on a beautiful 38-yard pass that helped set up the game-tying touchdown. But, it could have been the game-winning touchdown if not for the pick six on the previous drive. Then, he threw the game away with an infuriating pick in Colts territory in overtime.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

Last Week: 21

The Steelers are now winners of three in a row, completely turning around what was looking like a lost season after losing three in a row. There are still some major question marks on that offense. But, Mike Tomlin is spinning straw into gold once again. Say his name. Rumpletomlin.

18. Carolina Panthers (4-4)

Last Week: 18

Alright! So, the Panthers beat the Falcons. Not exactly in the most photogenic way, mind you. Sam Darnold didn’t make any mistakes, but he also didn’t do much exciting either. He basically managed this game in an adequate way while Chubba Hubbard, Zane Gonzalez, and the defense buried the Falcons. I never really thought of Sam Darnold as the game manger type, but maybe it’s a role he should embrace? 

17. San Francisco 49ers (3-4)

Last Week: 17

Credit to the 49ers – they overcame a rough first half to put away a struggling Bears team in the second. Then again, this really felt like an instance of the Bears beating themselves rather than the 49ers doing anything spectacular. Jimmy Garoppolo managed the game well and found the endzone twice with his legs. But, it really felt like the 49ers were the much less exciting team to watch this week, even though they won.

16. Minnesota Vikings (3-4)

Last Week: 13

Just when I thought the Minnesota Vikings are going to make a jump in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings, they turned everything upside down. The Vikings led the Cowboys through basically the whole game, save for a brief stretch early in the third quarter when it was tied. Then, they just had the absolute worst luck on the Cowboys’ final drive. What really felt like the Vikings’ opportunity to make a statement win turned into heartbreak. The Vikings are going to need to start finding a way to win these games before I take them seriously as playoff contenders.

15. Cleveland Browns (4-4)

Last Week: 11

What a fall from grace for the Browns. This team won three of their first four, but reversed course to lose three of their last four. To be fair, injuries have played a huge role in that decline. However, Baker Mayfield needs to be better. The Browns need more from their available receivers. This was a winnable game that the Browns appeared to be in control of until Jarvis Landry fumbled the ball away in Steelers territory in the fourth quarter. Next week they draw a pissed off Bengals team looking to bounce back in front of their home crowd. Yikes.

14. New Orleans Saints (5-2)

Last Week: 15

The up-and-down nature of the Saints’ season reared it’s ugly head again this week. The Saints beat the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers and are now just half a game behind in the race for the top spot. But, they lost QB Jameis Winston for the year with a torn ACL in the process. Trevor Siemian played well enough in relief. But, it’s a bittersweet feeling for a Saints team that, otherwise, looked poised to make a run.  

13. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2)

Last Week: 14

It was a good time to have a bye for the Raiders. After all the Gruden turmoil, they proved their team is stronger than any controversy by handily winning their next two games. Now, they’re alone for first place in the AFC West. Is it sustainable? Find out next week on DRAGON BA…. err… the ATB NFL Power rankings.

12. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)

Last Week: 11

An ugly win is a win at the end of the day. I’m no stranger to knocking teams down even after a win. But, I’m only going to do that in the case of an injury meaning more than the win itself meant. I’ll criticize the Cheifs all day long for a crazy sloppy game against the New York Giants. Honestly, we got more questions than answers out of this one. But, they won, so I won’t knock them down in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings.

11. Tennessee Titans (6-2)

Last Week: 9

Uh-oh. Alright, I know it looks weird when a team that just beat their only competition for the division crown falls in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings. But, hear me out. If Derrick Henry is out for the year, what even are the Titans anymore? Ryan Tannehill can sling it, but he won’t do that all the time. I’ll give the Titans credit for beating the Colts, which is why they don’t fall farther. But, ever heard of Pyrrhic victory? Supposedly there’s no bad wins in the NFL, but this might qualify.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)

Last Week: 6

Ouch. Remember all those good feelings we had about the Bengals after they demolished the Ravens last week? Yeah those are mostly gone after losing to the Jets. I still think this is a top-10 team because they’re remarkably healthy. And, they’re currently undefeated in the AFC North. The only other team the Jets have beaten this year are the Titans, who would be the No. 10 team this week had Derrick Henry not gotten hurt. So, maybe it’s not time to hit the panic button. Weird games happen. Go beat the Browns next week and those good feelings start coming back.

9. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3)

Last Week: 8

Over the last few weeks, Justin Herbert has looked more like the player I expected to see in the NFL. I’ve already admitted I was wrong about him, but he got outplayed by a pedestrian looking Mac Jones this week. The Chargers looked like they were generally in control of this game until he threw his first interception. They managed to overcome it and hold onto the lead, but then he threw a pick six in the fourth quarter. That was pretty much it for their chances this week, save for a too little too late touchdown with 40 seconds left in the game.

8. New England Patriots (4-4)

Last Week: 16

Am I being too generous to the Patriots here? Probably. But, last week I said they’re inching closer and closer to relevancy. Like the Steelers, the Patriots have completely reversed course on their abysmal start to the season. The difference is they did it with an absolute demolition job last week and a victory over a Super Bowl contender this week. I don’t see them losing any momentum with the Panthers, Browns, and Falcons coming up. But, if they do, it’ll show their boost in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings was an overreaction. If not, they’ll be 7-4 in a few weeks.

7. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)

Last Week: 10

What a bye week for the Ravens! I haven’t forgotten they were blown out in their own stadium by the Cincinnati Bengals last week. But, the Bengals fell back down to earth against the Jets this week and gave the Ravens the half-game lead for the division race. Also, pretty much all the other AFC contenders stumbled this week, other than the Bills. I still can’t put them up as high as they were before last week. But, they benefited from the turmoil of their competitors in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)

Last Week: 2

It looked like Tom Brady was going to do typical Tom Brady things and lead his team back from the dead. The Bucs were staring at a 23-7 blowout midway through the third quarter. Brady turned it on after that and actually gave them the lead at one point. But, a pick-six with 1:24 left in the game sealed their fate. It was a wholly ugly game for the Bucs. They would have deserved plenty of criticism even if they won. But, they didn’t, so out of the top-3 they go.

5. Los Angeles Rams (7-1)

Last Week: 5

There’s not much to learn about the Rams in this one, other than that they’re a really good football team. But, you already knew that, and blasting the Texans probably didn’t change your mind. Matt Stafford looked near perfect with 305 yards and three touchdowns. They failed to cover their lofty Vegas expectations by letting the Texans rally in garbage time. But, the Rams weren’t going to let the Texans recover like four onside kicks in a row. So, there was never really any doubt.

4. Arizona Cardinals (7-1)

Last Week: 1

I figured it was coming eventually. I wasn’t the biggest fan of having the Cardinals as the best team in football. But it’s hard to argue against when they just kept winning. Perhaps a three spot fall in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings is a bit much. Especially when the Cardinals just BARELY lost their first game because AJ Green forgot what the play call was. But, I’ve been skeptical of them all season. Let’s see how they bounce back with a fairly difficult second half of the season.

3. Dallas Cowboys (6-1)

Last Week: 4

Another close one for the Dallas Cowboys, but the Minnesota Vikings are much better than their record indicates. I’m impressed by the Cowboys’ resilience to win without Dak Prescott. The Cowboys will play the struggling Broncos and Falcons the next couple of weeks while Dak is out. So, getting this win was huge. If the Cowboys can win out while they’re waiting for Dak to come back, I’m not sure what’s going to stop this Cowboys team.

2. Buffalo Bills (5-2)

Last Week: 3

Beating the Miami Dolphins isn’t exactly the most impressive thing in the world. But, the Bills have looked as good as anyone throughout most of this season outside of a weird Week 1. Technically, the Tennessee Titans hold the No. 1 seed in the AFC right now due to head-to-head matchup. But, do you really think the Bills aren’t the best team in the AFC right now considering the Titans will be without King Henry?

1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)

Last Week: 7

What the Green Bay Packers have managed to accomplish this season is unbelievable. How Matt LaFleur isn’t the current unanimous front-runner for Coach of the Year is beyond me. Have you seen this team’s injury list? Za’Darius Smith, David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander, Josh Meyers, Marquez Caldes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, and Kevin King have all missed significant time this year. Hell, they didn’t even have Davante Adams against the Cardinals. But, they came away with a win against the only undefeated team left in the NFL. Can you imagine what this team will look like when they get healthy? Look out. For now, they’re well represented at the top of the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings.

Patriots vs. Chargers Preview

Inglewood, CA, Sunday, December 6, 2020 – New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) scoops up a blocked field goal as Los Angeles Chargers punter Ty Long (1) give chase in vain for a touchdown on the last play of the first half at SoFi Stadium. (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The New England Patriots return to SoFi stadium on Sunday to take on the Chargers in a game that could forecast the rest of the season for the Pats. These two teams met last year in a lopsided 45-0 at SoFi that featured the ineptitude of the Chargers special teams. The Patriots returned a punt for a touchdown along with a blocked field goal. Rookie Justin Herbert had a rough showing against Bill Belichick and the Patriots offense wasn’t asked to do much.

The Patriots are coming off their most complete showing of the season, dismantling the Jets 54-13. The Chargers are coming off a bye. The last game the Chargers played was a 34-6 loss at the hands of the Ravens. Were both outcomes an anomaly on each team’s radar? Or is it symbolic of what is to come for both?

Lingering over the game will be the injury reports on both sides. The Patriots listed 15 players on the injury report throughout the week. The Chargers were relatively healthy before workhorse back Austin Ekeler missed the final two practices with a hip injury. Head coach Brandon Staley has vocalized optimism Ekeler will play but time will tell. If he can’t go or is less than 100%, it will greatly benefit the Patriots.

This year features two very different teams but the same inept LA special teams. Herbert has looked like the future of the league at QB while the Patriots now feature a rookie QB. The Chargers are trying to prove they belong with the top dogs in the conference while the Patriots are trying to beat someone other than the Texans and Jets. This game could be the turning point of the season for the Patriots, whether good or bad.

Without further ado, the game preview presented in the typical “who has the advantage when…” format.

Patriots Run the Ball

Staley was brought in because of his prowess as a defensive coach. That reputation has yet to provide results for the Chargers run defense. LA has allowed 19 explosive runs this season (runs of 10 yards or more) and now gets to face the league leader in 20+ yard runs in Damien Harris. The New England running offense has jelled since the Texans game. The Chargers will be getting back talented DL Justin Jones from IR but their run defense is more than a one-man problem. They rank 31st in the league in EPA/play against the run (EPA measures situational data like down, distance, time in the game, etc. to produce a numerical point value a team is expected to produce on a specific play).

The Chargers also utilize a nickel defensive package (5 defensive backs) on 59.2% of their defensive snaps. The Patriots can utilize motion sets to give themselves favorable matchups in the box with both tight ends on the field. The Chargers have struggled to get opposing teams into 3rd and long situations. Their inability to stop the run is the reason why. If the Pats can avoid those situations, it will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.

Advantage: Patriots

Patriots Pass the Ball

For all their shortcomings against the run, the Chargers boast a top 10 passing defense headlined by All-Universe safety Derwin James. Staley’s defensive system focuses on limiting explosive plays in the passing game first and hoping for a trickle-down effect from there. The Chargers have been good in this category despite playing the Chiefs, Raiders, Cowboys, and Ravens already this season. The Chargers are a zone-heavy team, running zone on 66.3 percent of their snaps. They play primarily cover 3 with cover 1 being their second most played coverage scheme. The Patriots have had success historically attacking cover 3 with their tempo-based short passing game.

Last week Mac Jones showed he wasn’t afraid to attack cover 1 either, taking shots down the sidelines to WR’s Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. The Chargers pass rush, despite having game wrecker Joey Bosa, has lacked throughout the season. Part of this has stemmed from their inability to get teams into 3rd and long situations where pass rushers make their money. They rank 27th in total pressures and 29th in pressure rate despite Staley’s propensity to bring pressure on 3rd down. His 40.4% blitz rate on 3rd  down ranks fourth in the league. Mac has been improving by the week against pressure. The Patriots’ offensive line has improved drastically in their ability to protect Mac Jones. If the Pats can protect their rookie QB, he’ll find places to go with the ball.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Chargers Run the Ball

This will largely hinge on Ekeler’s availability. Backup man Larry Rountree III is talented in his own right but a few pegs below Ekeler’s ability. The Chargers lost starting RG Oday Aboushi in their week 5 win over the Browns. His absence was felt against Baltimore; the Chargers’ running backs mustered only 14 yards on 10 carries. This led to the Chargers abandoning the running game early but the problems were evident. They have also struggled on early downs, ranking 26th in EPA/play on 1st down. They are downright abysmal on second and long, ranking 31st in that category.

The Patriots are towards the back of the pack in defending the run, ranked 22nd in the league. However, this has been an area where the team has been steadily improving. The health of LB’s Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy along with run stuffing DT Davon Godchaux bears watching.

Advantage: New England Patriots (health on both sides a potentially huge factor)

Chargers Pass the Ball

Herbert has taken the league by storm, and for good reason. Herbert has 14 touchdowns against 4 interceptions while throwing for 1771 yards. The Chargers embrace their talented second-year QB, letting him throw early and often. However, this hasn’t been a strength as previously noted. The Chargers rank 26th on EPA/play on first-down passes and a negative EPA/play on play action. Furthermore, Herbert can extend plays with his legs. The Pats must be disciplined in their pass rush integrity and keep him contained. The loss of Aboushi also places a spotlight on the protection upfront. To this point, the Chargers have allowed the third-lowest pressures of Herbert’s dropbacks (19.2%).

The Chargers also feature a talented quartet of pass catchers in Austin Ekeler, Jared Cook, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.  A majority of the Chargers’ offensive snaps come from 11-personnel, keeping all four playing for most of their snaps. The loss of slot corner Jonathan Jones may be acutely felt this week. The questions surrounding the health of Devin McCourty also bear watching. My feeling is Mills draws Allen while Jackson goes against big-bodied Mike Williams. The Pats won’t be able to stop this passing attack but need to limit the big plays.

Advantage: Chargers

Special Teams

The Chargers were hoping for an improvement of last year’s historically bad special teams unit when they hired new special teams coordinator Derius Swinton II. And it has improved. Marginally. They currently rank 31st in EPA. The Patriots have been a streaky group with outstanding play and game-breaking mistakes on their third team. The Pats can’t hope for a repeat of last year’s (LA missed FG, blocked FG TD, punt return TD) but could see a distinct advantage in this phase. The Chargers recently replaced their kicker with ex-Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins. Hopkins has struggled with kicks from 50+ in his career. His struggles in all aspects led to his release from Washington. The Pats would benefit from making the Chargers coaching staff decide between kicking long field goals or punting.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Coaching

Belichick has shown that he means business this year. He has developed plans that stifled Tom Brady and kept the Pats in the game against the Cowboys. Last week he even showed signs of aggression by finally going for it on a fourth down. And he dismantled Herbert last year. Staley is extremely aggressive himself this year, leading the league in fourth-down attempts. His aggressive style has led to mostly success but was at the core of the loss to the Ravens. The Pats were aggressive last week and need to continue that momentum going forward.

Advantage: New England Patriots

Prediction

Despite the breakdown being heavy to the Patriots’ advantage, the Chargers have been one of the best teams in the conference through seven weeks for a reason. They have an elite quarterback and perfect complementary parts while featuring an aggressive coaching style that oozes confidence. The Pats have been an up and down team but are trending more up as of late. The Patriots will need to take advantage of hidden yards in special teams and maybe steal a possession with a blocked or missed kick. A successful Patriots running attack will shorten the game and limit Herbert’s possessions. This game has the feeling of being a low-scoring drag-‘em-out affair.

Pats win 23-21 as Hopkins misses a 54-yard field goal as time expires.

Baltimore Ravens, Lamar Jackson dominate Chargers

The Ravens and Lamar Jackson move to 5-1 after a dominating performance against Los Angeles

Baltimore Ravens

The game with the most intrigue of the weekend turned into an absolute romp. Behind Lamar’s day, the Baltimore Ravens routed the visiting Chargers 34-6. The Ravens dominated both sides of the ball en route to a 5-1 record atop the AFC North. Baltimore’s had some close finishes this season, including last Monday night, but this was a surprising reprieve for Ravens faithful.

Game Recap: Total Offensive Domination

The early afternoon contest featured two of the hottest quarterbacks and MVP hopefuls Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert. Both led potent, high scoring offenses and many predicted a shootout considering how porous both defenses have been all season. Instead, the Ravens jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and never looked back. Baltimore’s run game looked like the run game of old, steamrolling LA’s front seven with 187 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Three separate running backs ran for a touchdown, including the recently elevated Le’Veon Bell. Jackson’s stats won’t blow up the stat sheet as they had the last few weeks but he was still patient in the pocket and placed the ball where it needed to be to keep drives alive. Essentially, Lamar’s game through the air was unnecessary to keep the Chargers reeling.

Game Recap: Defense Shows Up

It was Baltimore’s defense, however, that came up big. The Ravens D had been gashed all season long, and most predicted Herbert’s high flying Chargers would do the same. Instead, the defense continually got pressure on Herbert and completely shut down Austin Ekeler. DeShonn Elliott snagged his first interception of the year while tacking on a sack, proving to be one of the most versatile defenders in the league. Justin Houston also added a sack late in the game to put him ever closer to 100 career sacks.

The most interesting take from this contest? Despite the margin of victory, no single player dominated the game. This was an all around team victory and everyone contributed to the massive victory. Rookie receiver Rashod Bateman made his long anticipated debut and had 4 receptions for 29 yards but had an ugly drop in the 4th quarter that turned into an interception for the Chargers. Still, it’s nice to see the Ravens try to work their young receiver into the game. Lamar Jackson also made history by passing Dan Marino for most wins (35) by a quarterback before age 25. Another game, another record set.

Baltimore Ravens Next Matchup

As stated before, this win improves the Ravens to 5-1 while maintaining first place in the AFC North. Next up? A home game against the surprisingly hot Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore’s first divisional game this season. The following week, the Ravens will go on a much needed bye. This was a massive win for the Baltimore Ravens before beginning a stretch of divisional games in late November-early December.