NFL Power Rankings, Week 11: AFC Deep Dive
Welcome back to another edition of my NFL Power Rankings. With wins and losses starting to add up and playoff races starting to come into focus, it feels like a good time to really break down each conference with a little more nuance than I would with my typical 32-team pecking order.
Let’s begin in the wild American Football Conference where a whopping 11 squads sit at 5 or more wins, including the ultra-competitive AFC North, where all four teams are above .500 and within striking distance of a division title.
In a conference with this much parity, anything can happen. But who are the real contenders, and who are just pretenders at this point? We’ll attempt to answer that and more on this AFC Deep Dive edition of the Power Rankings. Let’s dive in!
Note: the rankings below are my own and not a reflection of the true conference standings through Week 10.
1. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Total: 7-2 | Conf: 5-1 | Div: 2-1
SUPER BOWL CONTENDER. The Chiefs have some issues. Most of them stem from a WR room is questionable at best with Rookie Rashee Rice playing as the defacto WR1, but only on pace for 70 catches and 700 yards on the season. There’s just not an explosive element to this team for the first time in the Patrick Mahomes era. The Chiefs do still have the 2-time MVP and All-World TE Travis Kelce on offense, though, and that has proven to be enough in most games this season. The new and scariest factor in the Chiefs’ success this year has been a smothering defense that absolutely ranks with the best in the league. This team is a true WR1 away from true greatness. They could use a guy like, say, Tyreek Hill?
2. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Total: 7-3 | Conf: 4-3 | Div: 2-2
SUPER BOWL CONTENDER. The Ravens can beat any team in the AFC. They can also lose to any team in the AFC as evidenced by their 3 last second losses to supposedly inferior teams in the Colts, Steelers, and Browns. The blown leads and head-scratching mistakes late in games is becoming a trend, not just an acute issue with a quick fix. The good news is that the Ravens’ re-designed offense is working well, and their defense is also one of the league’s best all-round units. They can beat you in a lot of ways. They just need to stay out of their own way late.
3. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Total: 5-4 | Conf: 1-4 | Div: 0-2
SUPER BOWL CONTENDER. Call me crazy for having the 4-loss Bengals and their AFC worst conference-record in the 3 spot ahead of the explosive Dolphins and the team that just beat them by 3 in their own building in Houston, but there’s something about this Bengals team, and especially their QB, that makes me think they might still be the most dangerous team in the AFC despite the tough loss to the white-hot Texans. Joe Burrow wants a couple throws back from last week, but for the most part is putting together an MVP-caliber campaign now that he’s fully healthy. The defense can fly around and make plays as well. Don’t let this team get in the playoffs… They’re dangerous.
4. MIAMI DOLPHINS
Total: 6-3 | Conf: 4-2 | Div: 2-1
SUPER BOWL CONTENDER. The high’s and low’s of this Dolphins’ season are pretty remarkable, but there’s just too much talent on this team and they’re too well-coached to be ranked any lower. The defense has been playing well the last several weeks, while the offense is looking to regain some of it’s quick-strike form from earlier in the season. Tua is playing smart, efficient football and the weapons are outstanding. This is a playoff team and a true Super Bowl contender in 2023.
5. HOUSTON TEXANS
Total: 5-4 | Conf: 3-2 | Div: 1-1
PLAYOFF TEAM. I don’t know if this young, dynamic Texans team can keep it all together for the rest of the season and make the playoffs, but I sure do believe that they can. Rookie passer C.J. Stroud is proving those of us who labeled him the top QB prospect of 2023 right so far this season, and there’s no reason to expect it to just die at this point. The defense has some areas that can be exploited and the running game is inconsistent, but there’s no more fun team to watch in football right now.
6. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Total: 6-3 | Conf: 4-2 | Div: 2-1
PLAYOFF TEAM. Trevor Lawrence deserves some of the criticism coming his way after their Week 10 decimation at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. He’s definitely not solidified himself as a consistent Top 5 talent at the position, which is what he was billed to be during the draft process in 2021. Still, Lawrence is one of the most talented QBs in the league, and when he’s on, they can beat anyone. The defense has been a pleasant surprise. They make opponents one-dimensional with their run-stuffing front four controlling the line of scrimmage with regularity. It was a bad day on Sunday for this Jaguars squad, but they’re still arguably the best team in their division, making them a top squad in a tough AFC as well.
7. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Total: 6-3 | Conf: 4-2 | Div: 2-0
PLAYOFF TEAM. The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing a different sport than the rest of the AFC contenders, and so far it’s paying off as Mike Tomlin’s crew inexplicably sits a half-game behind the Ravens for first place in the North with a chance to remain the only undefeated team in division play in the conference after their trip to Cleveland this week. The Steelers’ offensive struggles are well-documented from coordinator Matt Canada to 2nd-year QB Kenny Pickett, but somehow, this team just knows how to make the right plays in the right moments to stack victories over bewildered opponents on a weekly basis. Is it sustainable for a playoff run? Probably not. But this team doesn’t cough up games in the weighty moments. They “steel” them.
8. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Total: 6-3 | Conf: 4-2 | Div: 2-2
PLAYOFF TEAM. You could argue the Browns deserve a much higher spot than 8th on this list, and I’d be inclined to agree with you based on what we’re seeing on TV and what this team looks like on paper. The problem is, it’s the Cleveland Browns, and I just can’t and won’t trust them until they show me they are for real. It might seem unfair after their impressive comeback victory over the Ravens, but the real test for Cleveland is this Sunday against the hated Steelers. If Deshaun Watson, who is improving as the season progresses, and company can take down Pittsburgh this week at home, it would go a long way to cementing them as one of the true contenders in the AFC. They have that potential.
9. BUFFALO BILLS
Total: 5-5 | Conf: 2-5 | Div: 1-2
PRETENDER. The Bills relieved OC Ken Dorsey of his duties on Tuesday, making him the scapegoat for an offense that just cannot take care of the football right now. The explosive plays are still there, just maybe a little fewer and further between. The defense still has playmakers, too, but Josh Allen just doesn’t have that magical touch this year and the internal issues seem to be derailing the 2023 season for a team with ultra-high expectations. The talent and upside is there, but something just doesn’t feel right this season. It’s tough to watch.
10. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Total: 4-5 | Conf: 2-3 | Div:1-1
PRETENDER. Chargers fans have it rough. It’s now been nearly 20 years of really good QB play between Phillip Rivers and Justin Herbert, but whatever bad vibes this team carries with them seem to transcend regimes and continue to leave the Chargers as more of a fun story than a true contender. That’s the case in 2023 as well. Herbert is still one of the top 2 or 3 QBs in the league when it comes to shear talent, but the offense goes through phases of ineptitude that boggle the mind, while the defense consistently fails to live up to its potential with all the big names on that side of the ball. With a fairly tough schedule remaining, it’s hard to see the Chargers sneaking by enough of the teams in front of them in the playoff race to earn a spot in January.
11. DENVER BRONCOS
Total: 4-5 | Conf: 2-4 | Div: 1-2
PRETENDER. The Broncos have been playing significantly better football since their 1-5 start to the year, and their latest victory over Buffalo proves that they have the talent on both sides of the ball to be competitive in the AFC. They’re not out of the running for a playoff spot, but the slow start to the season in an extremely tight conference might be too much to overcome in the long run. Broncos fans should be excited that their much-ballyhooed defense is recently looking more like what we thought they’d be in 2023, and the offense is playing mistake-free football and scoring just enough to win close games. They’re like a poor-man’s Steelers right now in that regard.
12. NEW YORK JETS
Total: 4-5 | Conf: 2-4 | Div: 1-1
PRETENDER. The Jets are a QB away from being a really good team. We said the same thing last year, and this year, the team addressed it by adding Aaron Rodgers. Their big mistake this time around? Keeping Zach Wilson on the team as the backup plan. Rodgers’ injury was, and is still, the biggest game-changer in the conference because this defense paired with the bevy of skill-position talent they have on offense would be an absolute force to reckon with if they just had the QB. Unfortunately, even if Rodgers returns this season, it’s likely going to be too late for the Jets with as many teams as are ahead of them heading into Week 11.
13. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Total: 5-5 | Conf: 4-3 | Div: 2-2
NOT A THREAT. Don’t be deceived by the fairly surprising .500 record for the Colts, they’re not really a good team. Jonathan Taylor looks like his old, explosive self most drives, and the defensive and offensive lines are scrappy enough to make things difficult for the opposition, but no team with Gardner Minshew at QB is a real playoff contender in 2023. Colts fans should take heart though, knowing that the dynamic Anthony Richardson awaits them in 2024 when his return coupled with a few key additions in the offseason could make them spicy in the AFC South once again.
14. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Total: 5-5 | Conf: 3-3 | Div: 1-1
NOT A THREAT. I mean, let’s be real here: interim HC Antonio Pearce isn’t taking this Raiders team led by a 4th round Rookie QB in Aiden O’Connell and that defense to the playoffs. Sorry Maxx Crosby. You’re incredible. Your team stinks. The Raiders 5-5 record might be the most surprising thing in football right now considering the miserable season they’ve endured to this point. I’ll give Pearce’s guys this: they don’t quit. They won’t be an easy out for the teams ahead of them on this list, but they can’t be taken seriously as a playoff contender in 2023.
15. TENNESSEE TITANS
Total: 3-6 | Conf: 2-4 | Div: 0-1
NOT A THREAT. Rookie QB Will Levis has some nice moments in his 3-game sample size that should have Titan’s fans excited about the potential down the road, but 2023 isn’t going to be the Titans’ year. They have too many holes on both sides of the ball, particularly along the O-line and defensive backfield. For Tennessee, the rest of this year is about figuring out what you have at QB so you can plan your 2024 run.
16. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Total: 2-8 | Conf: 2-4 | Div: 2-2
DUMPSTER FIRE. Oh how the mighty have fallen! The once peerless Patriots are now the dregs of the AFC, with a QB who can’t play the guitar surrounded by a lifeless cast of weapons outside of Rhamondre Stevenson. The team’s one supposed saving grace for this season was supposed to be a scrappy defense that kept them in games while the Offense figured things out. That hasn’t panned out the way anyone envisioned, and now the legendary Bill Belichick himself is having to answer questions about job security in the middle of the season. It’s almost unimaginable based on where this team was seemingly just a couple years ago.
Where does your team stand in the Week 11 AFC Power Rankings? Who’s too high? Too low? Let me hear it in the comments section. Be sure to stay tuned to the Fans First Sports Network for all your NFL news and notes.
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