NFL Power Rankings: The Patriots and Steelers are who we thought they were
It looks like a two-horse race for the AFC's No. 1 seed with the Chiefs fading
We wondered if the New England Patriots defense was fixable, even for a football wizard like Bill Belichick.
In the first month of the 2017 season, it looked as if the Patriots would play a season full of track meets, with all the players they let walk out the door, guys like Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, catching up with them.
I would often send out tweets tweaking the New England faithful when Jones made big plays or the Pats defense looked really bad, which was often in the first month.
Now here we are 10 weeks into the season, and it isn't that much of a concern anymore. Belichick did what he always does: He fixes things.
That's why he's arguably the best coach of all-time. It helps he has talented coordinator Matt Patricia, but Belichick made his reputation as a defensive genius, which is why the Patriots improvement in the past six games can be traced to his hoodie.
In the first four games, the Patriots gave up an average of 32 points. In the past six, it's 12.4. That's why they are again the odds-on favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, and why they are ranked second here in my Power Rankings.
The Patriots have turned it around without marquee players in the front seven, which might catch up to them at some point. They have only 17 sacks this season, which ties them for 26th in the league with the Dolphins and the Titans. They are also 29th in sacks per pass play. That isn't good enough.
They are still ranked last in total yards and rush yards per attempt, which is an unreal 5.0 per carry. That could be their undoing if a team decides to pound the run in the postseason to keep Tom Brady off the field. That number has to come down.
But the way Belichick and Patricia have improved this defense the past six weeks, who are we to doubt that it won't happen? This is why Belichick is a football-coaching star, even if sometimes it's fun to question his decisions.
|1||Eagles||They basically locked up the division title by dominating the Cowboys Sunday night. Now they have to try and lock up the top seed.||--||9-7-0|
|2||Patriots||The division is over and the schedule is soft. That means their game with the Steelers in a few weeks will likely decide the top seed in the AFC.||--||12-4-0|
|3||Steelers||The Steelers we saw beat the Titans is the group we expected to see this year. They will be a factor in late January if they keep that up.||--||8-8-0|
|4||Saints||They showed that their future Hall of Fame quarterback could still win games with his right arm by rallying the Saints past the Redskins. The defense needs to get back on track this week against the Rams.||1||13-3-0|
|5||Vikings||There is no need to take Case Keenum out of the lineup. With the pressure of that talk hanging over his head, he played well against the Rams. Let it ride.||1||10-6-0|
|6||Rams||They fell flat in the second half against Minnesota and now face a brutal stretch of games. They need to get the offense back on track quickly.||2||9-7-0|
|7||Panthers||They come off their bye with a winnable game against the Jets. They seemed to be getting it going before the bye on offense, and now they get back Greg Olsen and Ryan Kalil.||1||5-11-0|
|8||Jaguars||They don't do a lot on offense, but that defense is special. They lead the NFL in scoring defense.||2||6-10-0|
|9||Falcons||They've won two in a row and now have three straight at home, starting Sunday against the Bucs. The offense is just fine now.||2||7-9-0|
|10||Chiefs||They've lost four of five games and the offense isn't scoring anymore. The gimmicks don't fool like they did early in the season.||3||12-4-0|
|11||Seahawks||They would be out of the playoffs if they started right now. They are in big trouble.||2||11-5-0|
|12||Lions||This is Matthew Stafford's team. Let him throw it around and ride his right arm. They aren't going to be a run team as much as they want to run it more.||2||3-12-1|
|13||Cowboys||Their injuries have crippled them the past two weeks and now they face a must-win game on Thursday against the Chargers.||1||8-8-0|
|14||Titans||They just don't look right on offense. Marcus Mariota needs to pick up his play. So does the run game.||1||9-7-0|
|15||Ravens||If the playoffs started today, they would be in the party. Their defense was impressive at Green Bay, but the offense has to do more.||2||14-2-0|
|16||Chargers||They are 4-6 and have a tough road game Thursday at Dallas to face the Cowboys. They still have a chance to win the AFC West.||4||5-11-0|
|17||Bills||The change at quarterback to go from Tyrod Taylor to Nathan Peterman was a mistake. Now what?||2||10-6-0|
|18||Redskins||They play the Giants on a short week Thursday after a tough loss to the Saints. That loss might have done their season in for good.||2||3-13-0|
|19||Packers||They are finding out in a big way what life is like without Aaron Rodgers. It isn't pretty.||1||13-3-0|
|20||Raiders||They just haven't looked like their 2016 team. Derek Carr has struggled this season and the defense stinks.||1||7-9-0|
|21||Bengals||At 4-6, they are still alive in the playoff chase. The defense did a nice job at Denver.||5||2-14-0|
|22||Buccaneers||They showed some fight winning at Miami and now have won two straight. They aren't done yet.||2||7-9-0|
|23||Dolphins||They might need to make a quarterback change. It's just not working with Jay Cutler, who is in the concussion protocol this week.||1||5-11-0|
|24||Texans||They are still alive after beating the Cardinals. But they can't afford any more losses - that's for sure.||4||10-6-0|
|25||Jets||They come off their bye with an eye on next year after losing to the Bucs before it. Do they consider playing Christian Hackenberg at some point?||--||7-9-0|
|26||Broncos||At 3-7, their season is done. The offense just isn't any good. They need to play Paxton Lynch.||3||7-9-0|
|27||Cardinals||They've had to fight through way too many injuries this season. Now the question will be whether Bruce Arians comes back for another season.||8||5-10-1|
|28||Colts||They come off their bye with a game at home against the Titans. They have to be happy with what they are getting from Jacoby Brissett in place of Andrew Luck, but he is in the concussion protocol.||1||7-9-0|
|29||Bears||They play close games, but can't seem to pull them out. The good news is Mitchell Trubisky is getting better, but he gets that Eagles defense this week.||--||8-8-0|
|30||49ers||They got their first victory of the season before the bye, and now face a tough home game with Seattle. The question now is when does Jimmy Garoppolo take over?||--||13-3-0|
|31||Giants||They showed some fight in beating the Chiefs. But they waited to long to get it going this season.||--||4-12-0|
|32||Browns||They competed the past two weeks, which is a good sign. But will they win a game? I don't think so.||--||6-10-0|
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