We're approaching the point in the season where the playoff picture starts to form, and soon we will know what teams are mathematically eliminated from contention as well as the teams vying for a first round bye.
There are plenty of teams in the middle right now whose season is teetering on the edge of success and failure. The next three game stretch will determine the destinies of many organizations. The Saints provided an exclamatory whipping on Tom Brady's Bucs on Sunday night, and the heroics of Patrick Mahomes got his team a win in a close game against the Panthers in Week 9.
Let's take a look at the Week 10 power rankings based on what we've seen so far this season.
32. New York Jets (0-9, Last Week 32 +/- 0) - The Jets nearly got their first win against New England this past week behind a throwback performance from veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. They blew a 10 point lead as the Pats won on a field goal to close out the game.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7, Last Week 31, +/- 0) - A notable debut performance for rookie QB Jake Luton in a loss and James Robinson continues his impressive season going for 99 yards and a TD.
30. Washington Football Team (2-6, Last Week 28, -2) - Alex Smith started for the Football Team and started to find rapport with Terry McLaurin and Cam Sims, however Antonio Gibson wasn't able to get much going on the ground and they lost to the Giants 23-20 in Week 9.
Alex Smith with his 1st TD pass since Nov. 11, 2018 🙌🏻 https://t.co/mAsGBIkokN— NFL Stats (@NFL Stats)1604867579.0
29. New York Giants (2-7, Last Week 30, +1) - As just mentioned above, the Giants won for the second time this year in Week 9. Their outlook is still bleak however without their star running back Saquon Barkley in the backfield.
28. Dallas Cowboys (2-7, Last Week 29, +1) - The Cowboys get bumped up a spot after holding their own against the Steelers. Dallas' defense held Pittsburgh to just nine points through three quarters of play before a 15 point fourth quarter sealed the game for the league's only remaining undefeated team.
27. Chicago Bears (5-4, Last Week 25, -2) - Now losers of three straight, Chicago takes on Minnesota on Monday Night Football and has the task of stopping the league's best running back in Dalvin Cook. After that it's a date with Aaron Rodgers and the division leading Packers.
26. Detroit Lions (3-5, Last Week 22, -4) - The Lions have now dropped two straight and it appeared that Matt Stafford got a little banged up in Week 9. Detroit's offense isn't good enough to overcome the deficits their defense puts them in.
25. Denver Broncos (3-5, Last Week 21, -4) - Despite trailing by three touchdowns going into the fourth quarter, Denver almost completed a spectacular comeback against Atlanta in Week 9. The performances of Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler are noteworthy for the young offense, but Denver needs to find ways to get Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon more involved regardless of the game script.
24. New England Patriots (3-5, Last Week 27, +3) - New England escaped with a win against the Jets. They only move up here because of other teams losing. Until they can get another good win against a team not named the Jets this seems like a good spot for them.
Cam Newton in 2 games since being benched vs 49ers: 🔹 87.7 Passing Grade (2nd among QBs) https://t.co/HHiVEG1Cwc— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF NE Patriots)1605039595.0
23. Los Angeles Chargers (2-6, Last Week 23, +/-0) - Even though they took their second consecutive loss last week, the Chargers have to feel excited about how well their rookie QB continues to play. Justin Herbert fell just short in a comeback attempt, but still threw for 326 yards and two TDs against a good Raiders team.
22. Houston Texans (2-6, Last Week 26, +4) - The Texans finally got over the hump and picked up their second win of the season last week against the Jaguars. Deshaun Watson is still one of the most talented players in the league Will Fuller has developed into one of the league's best deep threats.
21. Carolina Panthers (3-6, Last Week 24, +3) - Although the playoffs are likely out of reach and Christian McCaffrey sustained another injury in his return, the Panthers have been a gritty team that has looked competitive every week.
20. San Francisco 49ers (4-5, Last Week 12, -8) - The biggest drop this week in the rankings comes from San Francisco. The injuries haven't ceased and at this point one would think that in a competitive NFC West, the 49ers have little chance of getting to the playoffs this year let alone making another deep run.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1, Last Week 19, +/- 0) - Coming off their bye, the rookie Joe Burrow will lead his team against the undefeated Steelers. This is my upset of the week candidate.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1, Last Week 16, - 2) - The Eagles also had a Week 9 bye week, but they are the hottest team in the NFC East riding a two game win streak. They look to be the favorite to win the division and are the only team trending in the right direction in the east.
17. Los Angeles Rams (5-3, Last Week 13, -4) - Four spots down from last week coming off a bye week seems excessive, but the Rams take on the Seahawks and Bucs over the next two games. Both will be looking to make up for bad losses endured in Week 9.
16. Atlanta Falcons (3-6, Last Week 18, +2) - The Falcons have won two in a row and have begun to look like the team we expected them to be at the onset of the season. It may be too late as they still have the Bucs and Saints ahead of them in the division, but they will still want to finish strong to bring momentum into next season.
Y'all want Julio to score more touchdowns. Here's what he has to say about that. 😂 https://t.co/a0wUJ71tiQ— Atlanta Falcons (@Atlanta Falcons)1604622540.0
15. Indianapolis Colts (5-3, Last Week 11, -4) - The Ravens stifled a good Indy offense as Philip Rivers and the running game never got anything going and failed to score a point in the second half. The Colts are good enough to win this division, but need to avoid offensive production like this in the coming weeks.
14. Cleveland Browns (5-3, Last Week 15, +1) - Cleveland is the last team on the list coming off their bye week. It was a much needed one after a terrible loss to the Raiders. The good news for them is that running back, Nick Chubb is expected back and should provide a lift to a stalling offense.
13. Minnesota Vikings (3-5, Last Week 17, +4) - When you have Dalvin Cook on your team you're bound to climb the rankings at some point in the season and that time is now. Winners of two straight, and with the Bears, Cowboys, Panthers, and Jaguars next up, the Vikings would be right back in contention if they came out of that stretch 7-5.
DALVIN COOK 70-YARD TD 🚨 He’s special. (via @NFL) https://t.co/4NcgDJhsFQ— Bleacher Report (@Bleacher Report)1604867658.0
12. Las Vegas Raiders (5-3, Last Week 20, +8) - Jon Gruden's Raiders have been a rollercoaster of a ride to follow this year. The offense seems ready to compete with anyone, if the defense can improve Vegas may have a contender.
11. Miami Dolphins (5-3, Last Week 14, +3) - If you need another example of how 2020 has been an episode from the Twilight Zone, the Dolphins are on the precipice of cracking our top 10 and there's little room for argument against it. Their only losses have come at the hands of the Patriots in the season opener along with the Bills and Seahawks. Their mid-season quarterback change amid a two game win streak seemed odd, but it resulted in impressive victories over the Rams and Cardinals. Brian Flores is obviously a good coach and has done amazing things with this young team. The AFC should be officially on notice.
.@Tua said SEE YA 📺 @NFLonCBS https://t.co/8oIoVSJse9— Miami Dolphins (@Miami Dolphins)1604879827.0
10. Arizona Cardinals (5-3, Last Week 9, -1) - Kyler Murray is developing into one of the best weapons in the NFL and the offense is near unstoppable. The loss to Miami in Week 9 hurt though as the Cardinals will take on the Bills this week. They are going to want to avoid dropping two in a row in one of the most competitive divisions in football.
9. Tennessee Titans (6-2, Last Week 7, -2) - The Titans beat the Bears in Week 9 but have a more stout opponent on deck this week in the form of the Colts. This should be a better indicator of who the Titans really are after a 5-0 start.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3, Last Week 4, -4) - The debut of Antonio Brown and the return of Chris Godwin left many expecting a shootout in the matchup between Tampa Bay and the Saints in Week 9. Tampa never got the memo apparently, but the Saints sure did. Drew Brees administered a 38-3 blow out on Sunday night, and the Bucs need to figure it out with the Falcons starting to find their stride.
Antonio Brown was asked if there was strong interest from other teams and why did he choose to play with the… https://t.co/nIAHqZuhsv— Dov Kleiman (@Dov Kleiman)1604518161.0
7. Baltimore Ravens (6-2, Last Week 10, +3) - The Ravens saw another lackluster performance from reigning MVP Lamar Jackson in a win against the Colts. While it may be troublesome to Ravens fans and especially to Lamar fantasy owners, the Ravens continue to win games. As long as they're able to keep winning it doesn't much matter how they accomplish it.
6. Seattle Seahawks (6-2, Last Week 3, -3) - The Buffalo defense showed that Russell Wilson is human for a whole half of football. Then Russ took off the suit and put on the cape and nearly brought his team back from a double digit deficit. If Seattle can't fix their problems on defense it will be a wasted year of phenomenal football from their QB.
5. New Orleans Saints (6-2, Last Week 8, +3) - The aforementioned beating that the Saints handed the Bucs is part of the reason for New Orleans' climb up the rankings this week. The other is that a healthy Michael Thomas back will only make them better.
Sean Payton leading the locker room dance party 😂 New Orleans with a 38-3 statement win tonight #Saints https://t.co/vj1pqKIm2t— Sideline Sports (@Sideline Sports)1604896284.0
4. Buffalo Bills (7-2, Last Week 6, +2) - A statement win from Buffalo against the Seahawks will send them into a tough game against the Cardinals with a boost of confidence. Not only a signature win for the team, but for their young gunslinger Josh Allen as well. Allen should be seriously considered for MVP if he continues this level of play.
3. Green Bay Packers (6-2, Last Week 5, +2) - Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are so good together that the NFL needs to start considering making it illegal for them to be on the same team. It's great to see A-A-ron letting it fly again and a fully healthy Aaron Jones and early season hero, Allen Lazard, should make this offense even better down the stretch.
Highest-graded QBs in the 2nd half: 1. Aaron Rodgers - 93.9 2. Cam Newton - 90.4 3. Tom Brady - 86.2 4. Russell Wil… https://t.co/i4Uftc6f16— PFF (@PFF)1605105062.0
2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1, Last Week 2, +/- 0) - The Panthers gave the defending champs a run for their money on Sunday, but Patrick Mahomes stepped up to put the Chiefs over the top. Throwing for four touchdowns on 372 yards, Mahomes did Mahomes things to fend off a scrappy Carolina squad.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0, Last Week 1, +/- 0) - Although they looked shaky against the Cowboys, the Steelers came away with the W and when you're the only remaining undefeated team in the league you get the top spot.
In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.
The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.
It should also be stated that Reggie Jackson has been really good for Los Angeles throughout the playoffs and is someone that the team leans on to take and make tough shots in crunch time. His fearlessness attacking the rim provides a lot of space for his teammates.
Reggie Jackson after getting his free agency bag this summer https://t.co/kgR7AUeQZ5— Josiah Johnson (@Josiah Johnson)1624936925.0
The Suns have dropped two of the last three games, and their win came in Game 4 which saw a final tally of 84-80 so it's tough to gauge how much stock to take in that victory. What I'm trying to say is the Clippers have definitely looked the part of a Western Conference Champion the past three games, and the Suns are at risk of flaming out.
Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (MCL sprain) will not play tonight in Game 5 of the WCF against the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes)1624923130.0
The Clippers' starting big man, Ivica Zubac, was out with a knee injury while Los Angeles out scored the Suns by 26 in the paint. So far in every game but one (Game 3 when L.A. beat Phoenix 106-92) the team that has scored the most points in the paint has ended up winning. Both teams are good from the free throw line and it gets the opposition into foul trouble so it is a sound strategy for either side. But Deandre Ayton wasn't able to get much going offensively in Game 5 finishing with only 10 points in 37 minutes.
For the Suns, they were quick to point out their own shortcomings following the loss. Coach Monty Williams noted, "It's just unacceptable the way we started the game," he continued on to compare the Suns and Clippers in Game 5, "We showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation."
Monty Williams: “Leadership is tricky - if you can’t get people to follow you, you’re just walking by yourself”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel Nichols)1624922492.0
Chris Paul who had 22 points and eight assists talked about Phoenix's inability to hold onto advantages, "We've got to close quarters better," Paul goes on to say, "that's been a problem for us all series long."
Paul has been a leader both on and off the court helping this young team to play far above the level anyone expected them to this season, but he's also been a part of many teams that fell short in the playoffs.
A championship run is the one knock on his hall of fame resume, and it seemed destined to happen this year especially after the Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But he isn't the only player who has had their reputation affected by playoff performances.
The nickname Playoff P isn't an endearing one. It has become synonymous with Paul George and his failures in the postseason up to this point. Any success that the Clippers were going to have this year was always likely to be attributed to Kawhi Leonard, but now that he is sidelined it's all on PG to carry the load.
George entered rarified air Monday night joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant as players who scored 20 or more points in each of the first 18 games in a postseason. All of their teams reached the Finals. George is hoping to follow suit as the Clippers are headed back home to host Game 6.
Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.