Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Power Rankings have a new No. 1. And also some questions — 32 questions to be precise, one for each team. Some of these are big questions that affect the long-term future of the teams, and some are more specific. Either way, we’re hoping the final 11 weeks of the season will give us some answers.

As for our new No. 1, they’ll feel pretty familiar.
(Last week: 5)
Sunday: Beat Los Angeles Chargers 31-17
One question: Is the defense for real?
Kansas City won the Super Bowl last season with a defense that ranked 14th in success rate (58.3 percent). This year’s group ranks fifth (61.6). The offense seems fully engaged now. Travis Kelce caught 12 passes for 179 yards Sunday, and Patrick Mahomes had his fifth career game with 400-plus yards and four or more touchdowns. Plus, Mahomes and Kelce connected for their 50th career touchdown, the fourth-most by a quarterback-tight end duo in NFL history. If this defense is for real, the Chiefs will stay in this spot for a while.
Up next: at Denver Broncos, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

GO DEEPER
The lessons Patrick Mahomes learned as a high school safety that helped him become an elite QB
(Last week: 4)
Sunday: Beat Miami Dolphins 31-17
One question: Should the Tush Push be outlawed?
The Eagles converted two fourth-and-1 plays on their decisive drive against Miami on Sunday night using their signature scrum play. There’s a growing sentiment that the NFL’s competition committee is going to ban the play in the offseason, but why? What is more of a football play than your big guys pushing their big guys back a yard, or two or three in the Eagles’ case? There should be a benefit to getting to third- and fourth-and-short plays. In case it’s not clear, our answer to this question is, “No!”
Up next: at Washington Commanders, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 12)
Sunday: Beat Detroit Lions 38-6
One question: Can we give Lamar Jackson his due?
The Ravens quarterback won his 50th career game in his 68th career start Sunday. Only Ken Stabler, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Roger Staubach got to 50 wins in fewer starts. And Jackson did it in style, becoming the fourth player in league history to have at least 350 passing yards, three touchdown passes, one rushing touchdown and a passer rating above 150 in a game. After seven games in new coordinator Todd Monken’s offense, Jackson is third in the league in passer rating (101.9) and fifth in yards per game (281.9), according to TruMedia.
Up next: at Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

4. Miami Dolphins (5-2)
(Last week: 1)
Sunday: Lost to Philadelphia Eagles 31-17
One question: Are the Dolphins for real?
This is the point where some of the devoted Power Rankings commenters can (and probably will) say, “We told you so.” The five teams Miami has beaten are a combined 8-25. None of them is even within two games of .500. Yes, Miami’s offensive line injuries are piling up, but the two winning teams the Dolphins have played have beaten them by an average of 21 points. We may not have an answer to this question for a while. They play only one team with a winning record (the Chiefs) between now and their game against the Cowboys on Christmas Eve.
Up next: vs. New England Patriots, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 2)
Monday: Lost to Minnesota Vikings 22-17
One question: Just how valuable is Trent Williams?
Say what you will about Deebo Samuel being sidelined, but the 49ers’ biggest absence (literally and figuratively) Monday night was left tackle Trent Williams. With the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder on the sideline because of an ankle injury, San Francisco rushed for a season-low 65 yards and had a season-worst minus-4.95 in rush EPA, according to TruMedia. Williams was limited for much of last week’s game against Cleveland by the injury, and the Browns had a pressure percentage of 50 percent.
Up next: vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

(Last week: 3)
Sunday: Lost to Baltimore Ravens 38-6
One question: How will they bounce back?
After being the league’s feel-good story through the first third of the season, Detroit got pummeled Sunday. Baltimore had 503 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per play, the most by any team not named the Dolphins in a game this season. Jared Goff had a quarterback rating of 68.4. The Lions were third in the league in yards (383.7) and fourth in points (28) through six weeks but fell behind 35-0 Sunday. Coach Dan Campbell said he thinks the game will “re-center” his team, but they don’t have a lot of institutional confidence to fall back on.
Up next: vs. Las Vegas Raiders, Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET

(Last week: 7)
Sunday: Beat Indianapolis Colts 39-38
One question: What’s the deal with Deshaun Watson?
After missing Weeks 4, 5 and 6 with a bruised shoulder, Watson returned Sunday but threw only five passes (completing one to each team) before leaving after a big hit. He cleared an in-game concussion evaluation but did not return to the game, which continues a pattern of the Browns saying Watson is uninjured but not playing him. Coach Kevin Stefanski said after the game that Watson will start this week against Seattle, but is that good news or not? Since joining the team in Week 13 last year, he has a passer rating of 81.3, which ranks 36th among qualifying quarterbacks in that time, according to TruMedia.
Up next: at Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET Trevor Lawrence, Christian Kirk and the Jaguars are in the driver’s seat in the AFC South. (Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)
(Last week: 8)
Thursday: Beat New Orleans Saints 31-24
One question: Is Trevor Lawrence elite?
The Jaguars’ third-year quarterback has been good. He’s 11th in the league in passer rating (92.8), and he was a just-fine 20-for-29 for 204 yards and one touchdown (and led Jacksonville in rushing with 59 yards) in beating the Saints this week, but Lawrence was drafted No. 1 in 2021 because he was supposed to be great. Granted, he’s the only thing saving a 2021 quarterback class that also included Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the first 15 picks, but he still misses throws and makes reckless decisions. If Lawrence can be one of the true dudes in the league, it changes Jacksonville’s outlook this year and into the future.
Up next: at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

9. Dallas Cowboys (4-2)
(Last week: 9)
Sunday: Bye
One question: Where are we on Dak Prescott?
In the last two weeks, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and star edge rusher Micah Parsons have felt the need to come to the defense of their eighth-year quarterback. It feels like a lot of angst about a quarterback who is 14th in the league in passer rating (91) and leading a team in the top 10 of these rankings. Are there quibbles? Sure. Prescott’s yards per attempt (7) are the second-lowest of his career, his air yards per attempt (6.9) are the lowest, and he’s throwing to wide receivers at the lowest rate of his career (58.1 percent). But that all seems like a product of Mike McCarthy’s offense, not Prescott’s play.
Up next: vs. Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

(Last week: 6)
Sunday: Lost to New England Patriots 29-25
One question: Where do they fit in the AFC East?
Buffalo has now beaten division leader Miami and lost to bottom dwellers New York and New England. The Bills have totaled 10 points in their last three first halves and have lost two of those games. They have the seventh-hardest remaining schedule in the league, according to Tankathon. This team is still fourth in the league in yards per play (5.9) so it’s probably fine, but it can’t afford to give away games to bad teams like it did Sunday.
Up next: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET

(Last week: 10)
Sunday: Bye
One question: Is the running game OK?
Joe Burrow seems fixed. Now about that run game. The division-winning Bengals teams of the last two seasons didn’t lean on the run, but they could run the ball. Cincinnati was eighth in the league in rushing success rate in 2022 (41.1 percent) and 23rd in 2021 (37.3). This year, the Bengals sit 30th at 30.9 percent, and Joe Mixon is the only back with more than five carries this season.
Up next: at San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

12. Seattle Seahawks (4-2)
(Last week: 11)
Sunday: Beat Arizona Cardinals 20-10
One question: Is Devon Witherspoon going to

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