By Steve Silverman
The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints continue to win and pick up the bona fides that could turn either one of those teams into the NFC Super Bowl representative. The AFC appears to be much more wide open, and while the Kansas City Chiefs continue to roll, their questionable defense could lead to heartbreak in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Chargers and Steelers continue to stack wins, and both appear to be getting better as the season reaches a critical stage.
Steelers 52, Panthers 21
Pittsburgh Steelers: A-. Remember when the Steelers stumbled in the first month of the season. That’s a distant memory, because Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are on a major roll. The Steelers laid 52 points on a very good Carolina team, and they have overcome the disappointment of not having Le’Veon Bell.
Carolina Panther: D-. The Panthers were rolling as they went to Pittsburgh Thursday night, and they got off to a good start by scoring the first touchdown of the night. However, the story went sour right after that, and the Panthers defense was eviscerated. Head coach Ron Rivera must figure this out quickly.
Bears 34, Lions 22
Chicago Bears: A-. It’s one thing to beat the Jets and Bills in back-to-back weeks, it’s quite another to take apart a division rival. Matt Nagy’s team continues to get better every week. The first-place Bears may not get a lot of recognition, but they are a very solid team.
Detroit Lions: D. The Lions have been unable to right themselves this season. They have dropped three games in a row, and while they appeared to have the talent to challenge for the division title, they now appear to be a last-place team. Rookie head coach Matt Patricia’s forte may be defense, but the Lions are brutal in that area, as they gave up four first-half touchdowns to the Bears.
Saints 51, Bengals 14
New Orleans Saints: A. We rarely give out the best grade, but the Saints have moved to the top of the NFL class, and there may not be any slowing them down. This was a game that had letdown written all over it, but the Saints showed off their skill, toughness and desire to punish an opponent.
Cincinnati Bengals: C-. The Bengals made noises at the start of the year that this would not be the same old kitty cats. They have forgotten those early-season performances, as they were run over by the Saints. As usual, there is no leadership on this team from the coaching staff or the team’s best players.
Browns 28, Falcons 16
Cleveland Browns: B+. The Browns have had a lot of close calls that have ended up in disappointing fashion this season, and that’s one of the reasons they fired head coach Hue Jackson. Gregg Williams inspired his team to deliver a physical whipping to a more talented team, and Baker Mayfield is proving to be a competitive leader.
Atlanta Falcons: C-. The Falcons appeared to be in good shape in this game, as they took a three-game winning streak to Cleveland. Instead, the Browns took it to the Falcons, and Atlanta had little fight against Cleveland. That’s a sad statement.
Colts 29, Jaguars 26
Indianapolis Colts: B+. It is clear the Colts are a much more talented team than they were last year, because Andrew Luck has returned to the lineup. But there’s another aspect to this team that has allowed them to approach the .500 mark at 4-5. They have shown toughness and competitiveness that the team never displayed in 2017.
Jacksonville Jaguars: C-. Last year’s memory of getting to the AFC Championship Game is becoming more distant every week. Their once-powerful defense is unable to hold its ground, and Blake Bortles is not the kind of quarterback who can win when things don’t go well from the beginning of the game. Head coach Doug Marrone has no answers.
Chiefs 26, Cardinals 14
Kansas City Chiefs: B. The Chiefs are an offensive juggernaut, but they were held in check throughout much of the game by the struggling visitors. Head coach Andy Reid knows his team can’t dominate every week, but he hopes the team can turn it on next week against the high-powered Rams.
Arizona Cardinals: B-. The Cardinals lost another game, but they went into Arrowhead and refused to roll over for the Chiefs. Arizona was quite competitive and limited Kansas City star quarterback Patrick Mahomes to 249 yards. That’s an achievement for a team that has not done many things right this season.
Bills 41, Jets 10
Buffalo Bills: B+. This has been a brutal season for the Bills, but they have played respectable defense throughout. The Bills got a wonderful effort from quarterback Matt Barkley (232 yards, two TD passes), and that was more than enough to propel them to victory over the Jets.
New York Jets: D-. The Jets should have been able to compete against another troubled AFC East team, but they were unprepared. Head coach Todd Bowles has a boatload of injuries to contend with, but that’s not supposed to be an excuse in the NFL.
Redskins 16, Buccaneers 3
Washington Redskins: B. The Redskins may not be a fancy team, but they have a two-game lead in the NFC East and they play a physical and hard-hitting style. That was more than good enough for them to shut down the Bucs. But head coach Jay Gruden knows the team may have issues against faster and more athletic teams down the stretch.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C-. The Bucs have been a high-scoring team throughout much of the season, but they are struggling at this point. It seems that both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston have lost their effectiveness, and head coach Dirk Koetter may not be stalking the sidelines for much longer.
Titans 34, Patriots 10
Tennessee Titans: A-. Something very powerful is going on with the Titans, who beat the Dallas Cowboys on the road last Monday night and built off that performance against the Patriots. Quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for 228 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and his teammates were much quicker and more aggressive than the Pats.
New England Patriots: C-. The Patriots regularly look ordinary or below average when they lose, and that was the case against the Titans. They were not as athletic, quick or as driven as their hosts, and they were not in this game after the second quarter.
Chargers 20, Raiders 6
Los Angeles Chargers: B. The Chargers appear to be growing into a mature team. They figured out a way to win fairly easily, even though they did not play an impressive game against a substandard opponent. Instead of blowing away the Raiders with big plays, the Chargers got the job done with defense, preventing the Raiders from finding the end zone.
Oakland Raiders: C-. The Raiders pulled out a fake punt on their first possession, and that helped them put an early three points on the board. Give Jon Gruden credit for taking advantage of the Chargers’ below-average special teams. Unfortunately, they had little else to offer and were beaten by two touchdowns.
Packers 31, Dolphins 12
Green Bay Packers: B. The Packers are usually dependent on quarterback Aaron Rodgers to win. That was not the case this week, as the defense and running game keyed the victory. Aaron Jones had 145 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and the Packers took the heat off of their longtime signal caller.
Miami Dolphins: C. The Dolphins deserve credit for how hard they played against a desperate opponent; there was no backing down. However, the skill level is limited, and the Dolphins just can’t make enough plays to beat a good opponent on the road. This is an ordinary team, destined to finish at .500.
Rams 36, Seahawks 31
Los Angeles Rams: B. The wildfires in their home area certainly created a distraction for the team, but they found a way to win the game. Still, opponents have solved the Los Angeles defense two weeks in a row, and this appears to be a big issue for head coach Sean McVay.
Seattle Seahawks: B+. The Seahawks didn’t win, but they exchanged power punches with the explosive Rams on their home turf, and that was impressive. Russell Wilson had the ball in his hands as the game ended, and the Seahawks had a chance to win the game. While the Seahawks fell short, this team has far more fight than most anticipated at the start of the season.
Cowboys 27, Eagles 20
Dallas Cowboys: A-. The Cowboys bounced back from their sleepwalking Monday night appearance against the Titans and won on the road against their hated rival. The Cowboys were led by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 151 yards, and a defense that prevented the Eagles from scoring the tying touchdown on their final possession.
Philadelphia Eagles: B-. The Eagles responded to every Cowboys thrust, but they could not find a way to win at home. That’s not how to get back to the playoffs, and this could end up as a very disappointing post-Super Bowl season.
Giants 27, 49ers 23
New York Giants: B-. The Giants won a road game over a team with two wins. It’s better than a loss, but the Giants are still in the NFC East basement, and it would be a shocker if they escape.
San Francisco 49ers: C. The Niners moved the ball and had the lead throughout the majority of the game. But penalties on New York’s last possession hurt them, and they could not come through in the final seconds. Did anyone expect Nick Mullens to bring home a win on the final play? I don’t think so.
Bye week: Broncos, Ravens, Texans, Vikings