NFL

Ranking NFL contenders in AFC and NFC after 10 weeks: Cowboys still near top of conference after Packers loss

The 2022 NFL season is flying by. Can you believe we are already in Week 11? With the regular season winding down, it’s about time we start really diving into the playoff picture, and identifying which teams have the wherewithal to win Super Bowl LVII. Sure, teams like the New York Jets, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks have had impressive starts to the season, but are they legitimate contenders?

Below, we will rank the top-eight contenders in the AFC and NFC. The teams that make up this list are either atop their respective divisions or have a top record in the NFL. We had to be flexible with a couple of these teams to find eight clubs on each side, but let’s take a look at what we came up with. 

AFC 

1. Buffalo Bills (6-3)

Despite losing the game of the year at home to the Minnesota Vikings, the Bills still hold the No. 1 spot in the AFC. Yes, they led, 27-17, entering the final five minutes last week, but Buffalo was only a bizarre goal-line fumble away from a win. Weird things happen sometimes.

A lot of attention has been given to Josh Allen’s elbow injury, but he looked OK on Sunday. He made some great throws and then some not great throws. But as talented as he is, Allen is still a big reason why Buffalo has lost two straight games. The star quarterback has thrown multiple interceptions in three straight games — which marks the longest streak of his career. Allen also has recorded a red zone turnover in four straight starts, which is the longest streak by any quarterback since DeShone Kizer in 2017. Chris Trapasso actually wrote a great article on Allen’s recent struggles. Before Week 8, when Allen’s two-interception streak began, his average depth of target was 8.3 yards. Over the past three weeks, however, it increased to 12.8 yards — which is the the highest in the NFL in that span.

The Bills statistically still have the No. 1 offense in the NFL, as well as a top-10 defense. To me, they are still top dogs in the AFC. 

2. Kansas City Chiefs (7-2)

The Chiefs are an obvious top-two team in the AFC and have won 24 straight games in November and December. That’s the longest such streak since 1970. The Chiefs average 1.0 yard of total offense fewer than the Bills per game, but lead the league in points scored per game with 30. The wide receiving corps has been better as of late, and it’s impossible not to be intrigued by the addition of Kadarius Toney

The Chiefs defense is statistically middle of the pack (16th), but that’s still better compared to some past years. Even with the loss of Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs are still just as live to win the Super Bowl

3. Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

When I was writing CBS Sports’ “Contenders and Pretenders” series this season, I had the Ravens as pretenders to start the year. Lamar Jackson and the offense seemingly always impress — even without a legitimate wide receiving corps — but the defense was seemingly holding them back. Not anymore. 

Did you see the Ravens’ win over the New Orleans Saints before the bye week? The Saints came into that matchup with the No. 3 offense in the NFL, averaging 394.4 yards per game, but this Ravens defense held them to just 243 total yards. Justin Houston was fantastic with 2.5 sacks and an interception, Tyus Bowser made an impact in his return to the field, and former Bear Roquan Smith clearly showed he can help this team. Rookie David Ojabo could make his debut soon, and star safety Marcus Williams should return before the playoffs. 

Baltimore has what PFF rates as the No. 1 pass-blocking offensive line and the No. 4 run-blocking line. I have the Ravens as the best team in the AFC North, and they will have a chance to make a postseason run.

4. Miami Dolphins (7-3)

I’ve been waiting for the Pac 12 to make an appearance in the NFL, and we finally got it in the Miami Dolphins. Mike McDaniel’s offense can out-score anyone, but like stereotypical Pac 12 defenses, Miami’s needs some work. Back in September of 2019, UCLA beat Washington State, 67-63. Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw five touchdowns, while Anthony Gordon threw nine touchdowns. You probably don’t think about that game every day like I do, but that’s what could happen if someone challenges the Dolphins to a shootout. I hope Miami finds itself facing off against Kansas City or Buffalo in the postseason. 

Tua Tagovailoa is the first player in Dolphins history to record 285 or more passing yards, three or more passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in three straight games. He’s benefitted from coach McDaniel, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, of course, but he’s taken a clear step in his development as a signal-caller as well. I also was not anticipating Jeff Wilson to be a great trade-deadline addition. He recorded 119 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 10. I think the Dolphins defense definitely hurts this team’s ceiling at this point, but the Dolphins are one of the most intriguing squads in the NFL. Another reason they are at No. 4 behind the Ravens is because John Harbaugh has playoff experience, McDaniel does not … yet. 

5. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

I think the Bengals are one of the teams to watch as we embark on the second half of the regular season. Do you remember what the Bengals’ record was last year when they were coming off of their bye? 5-4. Just like this season. Cincy finished the 2021 campaign 5-3, and then of course made that amazing Super Bowl run.

The Bengals have a top-10 offense — but I don’t think many know that they statistically have a top-10 defense as well. Joe Mixon is an underrated part of Cincy’s offense, and is of course coming off of a dominant five-touchdown performance against the Carolina Panthers. The Bengals do have a pretty tough remaining schedule, but they are the reigning AFC champions for a reason. With Joe Burrow, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, this team can still score points. I’m not ready to rule them out just yet, but let’s hope Ja’Marr Chase returns soon. 

6. Tennessee Titans (6-3)

Man, the Titans are a weird/interesting team. Mike Vrabel may be the best coach in the NFL. I don’t think anyone else could have gone into Kansas City with the amount of injuries the Titans had — plus a rookie backup quarterback — and take the Chiefs to overtime without completing a single pass to a wide receiver. Yeah, Derrick Henry was good, but he rushed just 17 times in that matchup!

The Titans defense is elite and can hold virtually anyone in check. Tennessee is the best team in the AFC South, but I don’t know how much of a legitimate contender the Titans really are. This wide receiver corps is one of the worst in the NFL, although Treylon Burks is back and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine had five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday. You can’t count the Titans out in any game, but I’m not putting money on them to win the Super Bowl. 

7. New York Jets (6-3)

The Jets are one of the best stories this season — more specifically the Jets defense. It has the highest-overall PFF defensive grade this season (85.1), as Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley and Sauce Gardner have been awesome. New York has five outright wins when listed as underdogs of at least three points this season, which is tied for the most by any team through nine games since the 1970 merger. 

This Jets franchise is on the right track, but I don’t view them as legitimate contenders. Second-year signal-caller Zach Wilson has taken a step forward in his progression as an NFL quarterback, but he still struggles mightily under pressure. In fact he has a 6.6 passer rating when pressured this season, which ranks worst in the NFL. I just wonder what will happen when the Jets get punched in the mouth first and are forced to push the ball down the field in the second half.

8. Los Angeles Chargers (5-4)

The Chargers were my Super Bowl pick to begin the year. I knew they had a reputation when it came to disappointing relative to expectations, but I was calling my shot. The defense made several offseason additions, the offensive line looked good on paper, and Justin Herbert is one of those up-and-coming star quarterbacks who I thought was ready to really take off. Then, injuries hit. It bugs me that people criticized Herbert in the loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He was without his top-two wide receivers and several starting offensive linemen, but people wanted to criticize the quarterback. 

L.A. is the second-best team in the AFC West, but as we’ve learned, that’s not saying much.

NFC

1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)

The Eagles did just lose their first game of the season to the mighty Washington Commanders, but it really was just a perfect storm Philly couldn’t weather. The officials missed some things, and then the Eagles turned the ball over four times. Philly had just three turnovers in the first eight games of the regular season! Honestly, this is probably a good thing for Nick Sirianni’s squad. The Eagles can now move past the whole “undefeated” talk and further lock in. They are still the best team in the NFC. 

2. Minnesota Vikings (8-1)

How about these Vikings? They have seven straight wins — all by one possession. That’s tied for the longest streak in NFL history. The other team was the 2020 Chiefs, who went to the Super Bowl. It’s one of the biggest differences between this year’s Vikings team and last year’s team. In 2021, Minnesota went 6-8 in one-score games. First-year head coach Kevin O’Connell has brought some juice to this offense, as Justin Jefferson leads the NFL with 117.8 receiving yards per game, and is on pace for an NFL-record 2,002 receiving yards. 

Some may have a tough time accepting that the Vikings are Super Bowl contenders; believe it. They have five fourth-quarter comebacks and three wins when trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter. They are never out of any game — as evidenced by that absurd victory over the Bills last Sunday. 

3. Dallas Cowboys (6-3)

The Cowboys currently reside in third place in the NFC East, but that doesn’t feel accurate since they defeated the Giants earlier this year with Cooper Rush at quarterback. The most recent loss against the Green Bay Packers was certainly a tough one, as it marked the first time in franchise history where the Cowboys lost when holding a lead of at least 14 points entering the fourth quarter. Previously, they were 195-0 in such situations. 

Dak Prescott was inconsistent at times, but this offense has all the pieces it needs to be successful. The defense has been gashed over the past two games, but still has an NFL-high 35 sacks. I don’t feel as high on “America’s Team” as I did before last Sunday, but we’ll see how they bounce back against a tough opponent this week in the Vikings.

4. San Francisco 49ers (5-4)

The 49ers are getting healthy and may be the best team in their division. They are a candidate for a second-half regular season explosion — just like last year. The addition of Christian McCaffrey could be a huge one, and then they statistically have the No. 1 defense in the league. I still don’t know how much of a legitimate Super Bowl contender they are with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, but this team came just one quarter away from a Super Bowl appearance last year. 

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)

I am giving Tampa Bay somewhat of a “Tom Brady” nod here since you never want to count out the GOAT, but the Buccaneers in my mind are at the very least going to have an opportunity to make a playoff run. Thanks to its two-game win streak, Tampa Bay is now in first place in the NFC South and has the third-easiest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon. Brady said on his “Let’s Go!” podcast, that his team is in a “better place” heading into the bye week, and I feel like they will win the NFC South. 

The victory over the Seahawks in Germany felt unexpected to me. Rookie Rachaad White ran for 105 yards, and Chris Godwin caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Godwin could be set to play his best ball moving forward. The defense also had a very strong outing. The Bucs aren’t my Super Bowl pick, but they are poised to bounce back after a very rough start to the season. 

6. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)

The 16 points Seattle scored in Germany were the lowest amount scored for the Seahawks since Week 2 at the 49ers — and they were trailing the Bucs, 21-3, entering the fourth quarter. Geno Smith is still the Comeback Player of the Year favorite, but it was weird to see Kenneth Walker III held in check against the Buccaneers.

I’m interested to see if, one, the defense can continue to play well, and two, how the Seahawks respond after this loss and the bye week. With the Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Rams and Panthers next up on the docket, Seattle has a chance to strengthen its hold on the division — but San Francisco won’t go away quietly.  

7. New York Giants (7-2)

The Giants are a solid team and Daniel Jones has been playing pretty well as of late. Against the lowly Houston Texans, he had a 153.3 passer rating, which was the highest in the NFL this season, and 11.6 yards per attempt, which was a career-high. Saquon Barkley has reintroduced himself as a star and has remained healthy, but statistically, this Giants offense is behind Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos and has scored fewer points per game than the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Giants are another team that is on the right track, but I don’t view them as a Super Bowl contender in 2022. 

8. Green Bay Packers (4-6)

How about the Packers scoring an upset victory at home against the Cowboys! A couple of observations from that game: Green Bay rushed 19 more times than Aaron Rodgers threw the ball, but at the same time, Allen Lazard and the rookie Christian Watson made the Cowboys corners look silly at times. Maybe the Packers can rebound late in the year, but I’ll be surprised if they even make the playoffs.



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