The trade deadline is in the rearview mirror, we already have eight weeks of jam-packed football in the books, and now it's a mad dash to Las Vegas (Friday marks 100 days until the game), the home of Super Bowl LVIII. With us passing this last major roster-building mile marker and the second half of the regular season on the horizon, now is as good of a time as ever to take the temperature of where things stand in the NFL and determine which teams are best positioned to go on a run that could find them playing for a Lombardi Trophy.
Of course, this is a snapshot of where things stand heading into Week 9. With four teams in the AFC all currently with the same record atop the standings, there will certainly be some jockeying around that could shift this ranking as soon as this Sunday. That said, we're going to run through nearly a dozen legit Super Bowl contenders and see what their chances currently are of making it to the big game.
Philadelphia sits with the best record in the NFL at 7-1 entering Week 9 and, if the season ended today, would be the No. 1 seed in the NFC, giving them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye. And while their record is stellar, the Eagles still haven't played their best football to this point, so there's room for this team to get even better. The offense still largely has its core intact that made a Super Bowl run a year ago and just made one of the bigger splashes around the trade deadline, dealing for former Titans safety Kevin Byard to bolster the secondary, arguably their biggest weakness.
This next string of games will be telling for Seattle as they are set to face the Cowboys twice, the Chiefs in Kansas City, the 49ers, and the Seahawks in Seattle before wrapping up the final three weeks of the regular season against under .500 clubs. Even if they emerge from that stretch going .500, their record could still be good enough to retain the No. 1 seed if they take care of business against their remaining inferior opponents.
And if the road to Super Bowl LVIII through the NFC goes through Lincoln Financial Field, that's a monumental advantage for Philly.
The Dolphins have the most explosive offense in the NFL at the moment with Tyreek Hill on pace for 2,000 receiving yards and Tua Tagovailoa sitting as an MVP favorite. They're also poised to get rookie running back De'Von Achane back in the coming weeks, bolstering their backfield to make the offense even more dangerous.
While the offense has garnered most of the headlines, the defense is what could really put Miami on the Super Bowl radar. The team welcomed back Jalen Ramsey after the star cornerback opened the year on injured reserve and had an immediate impact in the secondary, recording an interception. Once fellow corner Xavien Howard, who has missed the last three games due to a groin injury, makes his return, the Dolphins will have arguably the top cornerback duo in the NFL. If Miami can get up on teams early and force them into a pass-heavy game script, that only plays in their favor with those two lurking in the secondary.
Mike McDaniel's team is currently in first place in the AFC East and in a four-way tie for the best record in the AFC at 6-2. They are technically the No. 2 seed at the moment behind Kansas City but have the Chiefs on deck in Week 9 in a pivotal matchup in Germany (). On top of having the most complete roster in the AFC, if the Dolphins could secure the No. 1 seed in the conference, that'd go a long way in them reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1984 season.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
If the season ended today, the defending champions would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so pushing them down to the No. 3 position in these rankings is about as low as you can realistically go. While Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate equalizer and could will a team to the Super Bowl on his own, I do have some questions about the Kansas City offense. If a team can contain Travis Kelce, the Chiefs have struggled to move the ball at times this year, which is a concern when looking at other contenders -- like Miami -- that can put up points in bunches. So far this season, K.C. is averaging 23.4 points per game, which is the lowest in a season with Mahomes as the full-time starter.
On the flip side, this defense is the best that Mahomes has ever played with. They are allowing just 16.1 points per game this season, which has helped them to a 6-2 record.
The Chiefs have a couple of key games coming up against Miami (Week 9 in Germany) and Philadelphia (Week 11 following the bye), but overall have an easy second half of the year with their strength of schedule ranking in the middle of the league.
Andy Reid's team already has a sizable lead in the AFC West as every other division rival is under .500, so there is no true threat of them falling out of that position. And if they can keep plugging away wins to hang onto the No. 1 seed, Arrowhead Stadium is about as tough of a venue as there is for an opposing team.
Of the teams within these rankings, no club has an easier remaining schedule than the Lions. Detroit's remaining opponents have a combined win percentage of .420, which ranks 29th in the entire NFL. With Dan Campbell's team sitting just a game behind the Eagles in the conference standings, there's a very easy path to earning the No. 1 seed. In the division, they own a two-game lead and the team directly behind them (the Vikings) just lost their quarterback for the season, so there's no real threat lurking in the NFC North.
As for the team itself, there's a lot to like about the roster that Brad Holmes has constructed. The offense ranks second in the league in total yards per game (390.6) and could be even better down the stretch with the emergence of rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs along with the looming return of David Montgomery. Defensively, they can pressure the quarterback and are tremendous at getting off the field, ranking third in the league on third down (32.5% conversion rate). That ability to get opposing offenses off the field in a hurry and grind out games on the ground is a great recipe for postseason success.
Jacksonville has a commanding lead in the AFC South and has ripped off five straight wins heading into the Week 9 bye that has them in a tie for the best record in the conference. While the Jaguars do have some heavy hitters remaining on the schedule -- 49ers (Week 10), Bengals (Week 13), and Ravens (Week 15) -- all of those games are at home, giving them a slight edge and an outside chance of earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Surprisingly enough, one of the biggest questions around this team is on the offensive side of the ball. In the red zone, the Jaguars rank 23rd in efficiency, which will need to improve to go on a legit run. That said, the defense has been a tremendous bright spot, ranking first in the league in takeaways per game (2.3) and sixth on third down (34.4% conversion rate). If Trevor Lawrence and the offense can use this break to get on the right track, they could be a sleeper in the AFC.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore was my preseason pick to win the AFC and I'm still tremendously high on them as we reach the midway point of the year. Defensively, the Ravens are able to get after it. They rank first in points allowed per game (15.1), sacks (31), and yards per play allowed (4.2). The unit also has been able to buckle down inside the red area, holding opponents out of the end zone on 65% of their red zone trips (third-best in the NFL). Of course, offensively they have been extremely dynamic with Lamar Jackson under center. The quarterback is putting up comparable numbers to his MVP season in 2019 and has completed 70.5% of his passes entering Week 9. That high ceiling offensively under Jackson coupled with their shutdown defense makes the Ravens an extremely dangerous team in the postseason.
What keeps them from being higher on this list is simply the road ahead. Baltimore has the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL with their remaining opponents owning a combined win percentage of .597. While they do sit atop the AFC North at the moment, they do have some division rivals nipping at the heels, including the emerging Bengals.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Coming into Week 9, the Seattle Seahawks are in first place in the NFC West and would be the No. 3 seed in the conference if the season ended today. Pete Carroll's club just made one of the biggest trades around the deadline, bringing aboard defensive end Leonard Williams while also signing free-agent linebacker Frank Clark. That boosts a pass rush that has also popped this season, piling up 21 sacks over the last four games. The defense as a whole has really turned a corner over the last month, allowing just 12.5 points and 274 total yards per game.
In the secondary, first-round rookie Devon Witherspoon has been tremendous. The corner is allowing just 39.5 of his passes thrown in his direction to be completed and opposing quarterbacks have a 45.3 passer rating when targeting him. With Witherspoon flashing No. 1 corner ability and a pass rush that can attack the quarterback, Seattle's defense is as dangerous as there is in the NFC.
On offense, Seattle has a study running game led by Kenneth Walker III and has arguably the best trio at wide receiver -- DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba -- in the league at Geno Smith's disposal.
8. San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco is just behind Seattle because they've limped into their Week 9 bye, losing three straight to fall out of first place in the division. The Niners did pull off a monster deadline trade to acquire Chase Young from the Commanders, making their defense that much more lethal. However, the offense is where the questions come in. One of the more notable developments during this losing streak has been the poor play from quarterback Brock Purdy. Over the last three weeks, the second-year signal-caller has thrown five interceptions after having zero picks through the first five weeks. That includes back-to-back multi-interception games. If Purdy continues to regress, that dramatically limits the ceiling for the Niners no matter how talented they are across the roster.
They also have the sixth most difficult remaining schedule in the league and have more games on the road (five) than they do at home (four) down the stretch.
When right, the 49ers have a case to be No. 1 on these rankings, but they are not quite in sync at the moment, which has put a dent in their Lombardi hopes at this juncture.
9. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are currently in second place in the NFC East and two games behind the Eagles for first. They could eat into that lead this Sunday when they go to Philadelphia to face their division rival but currently have an uphill climb to avoid being on the road throughout a possible playoff run. Dallas also has the fourth-toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, including trips to Buffalo and Miami still on the docket.
That said, the Cowboys are one of the more talented teams in the league and have a defense that is superb at getting after the quarterback. Coming into Week 9, Mike McCarthy's team is the third highest-graded pass-rushing team in the league (per PFF) and has the highest pressure rate in the league. Dak Prescott is also coming off his best game of the season against the Rams where he threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns. If he plays at that level and limits turnovers, the Cowboys have the talent on offense to run with any team.
10. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo has flashed its potential of being a Super Bowl favorite at times but has also struggled in recent weeks. They are currently in second place in the AFC East and have started sluggish offensively in their games over the past month. If they can't secure a top seed in the conference and are forced to go on the road in the playoffs, that could spell an early exit. The Bills are 1-3 this season in games away from Highmark Stadium and Josh Allen has specifically seen a drop off in production when outside Buffalo. In games played on the road (or in London), Allen is completing 66.9% of his passes (77.3% at home) and has a passer rating of 83.7 (122.3 at home). He's also thrown the same amount of interceptions (six) as he has touchdowns in those games as well. Allen has been dealing with a right arm injury as well, which only clouds things further for Buffalo.
As for the road ahead, they have the third-toughest remaining schedule in the league, which includes a number of extremely tough road matchups. Still on the schedule are trips to Cincinnati (Week 9), Philadelphia (Week 12), Kansas City (Week 14), and Miami (Week 18). If those road struggles persist, the Bills chances of winning the division and hosting at least one playoff game could go up in smoke.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have looked like their old selves in recent weeks, especially during their upset win on the road against the 49ers in Week 8. Joe Burrow is as healthy as he's looked all season, but those early struggles have put Cincinnati in a hole they'll need to dig out of in hopes of making a run to the Super Bowl. The club is 4-3 on the year and two games behind the Ravens (who they lost to in Week 2) in the AFC North. As things stand, the Bengals are not even in the playoffs as they are looking up to the Browns and Steelers for wild card spots.
The remaining road is also pretty rough for Cincinnati as they have the second-toughest remaining schedule in the NFL that includes games against the Bills, Ravens (at Baltimore), Jaguars (at Jacksonville), and Chiefs (at Kansas City).
They have the talent to make a run and have started to turn the corner by winning three straight games, but the Bengals have an uphill climb to ultimately land in Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVIII.