Projecting the teams most deserving of the playoffs, then ranking them heading into Week 9.
1. New England (8-0)
After coasting against the league’s weakest strength of schedule (.259 winning percentage of opponents), Patriots finally get a real test on Sunday night.
This week: at Ravens (5-2). Last week’s ranking: 1.
2. San Francisco (7-0)
The 49ers were mighty impressive as they ripped apart a good Panthers defense in a 51-13 victory.
This week: at Cardinals (3-4-1), Thursday. Last week’s ranking: 2.
3. New Orleans (7-1)
It’s good to be the Saints. They got Drew Brees back, beat the Cardinals, have a bye and return against the Falcons and Bucs.
This week Bye. Last week’s ranking: 3.
4. Green Bay (7-1)
A West Coast game feels like a trap, but the Chargers haven’t scored more than 20 points against a non-winless team since Week 1 in overtime.
This week: at Chargers (3-5). Last week’s ranking: 5.
5. Kansas City (5-3)
Despite playing well, the Chiefs have lost three of their last four and can’t afford another against the Vikings, who have won four straight.
This week: vs. Vikings. Last week’s ranking: 4.
6. Baltimore (5-2)
Ravens are rested and prepped coming off a bye, but we’re waiting to see which rule loophole Bill Belichick uses to make John Harbaugh blow a gasket.
This week: vs. Patriots (8-0). Last week’s ranking: 6.
7. Minnesota (6-2)
Stefon Diggs’ 453 receiving yards in the previous three games set a franchise record. Vikings will need more to keep pace with KC.
This week: at Chiefs (5-3). Last week’s ranking: 7.
8. Indianapolis (5-2)
The Colts will need to play much better against a hard-playing Steelers team than they did against the Broncos.
This week: at Steelers (3-4). Last week’s ranking: 8.
9. Seattle (6-2)
A shaky offensive line got even worse with center Justin Britt (ACL) out for the year. Look out, Russell Wilson.
This week: vs. Buccaneers (6-2). Last week’s ranking: 9.
10. Houston (5-3)
Texans lost J.J. Watt for the season and might not have left tackle Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) in London. That’s rough.
This week: at Jaguars (4-4), London. Last week’s ranking: 10.
11. Dallas (4-3)
The addition of Michael Bennett will help the pass rush, but his mouth may cause headaches.
This week: at Giants (2-6), Monday. Last week’s ranking: Unranked.
12. Buffalo (5-2)
Got a dose of reality as the Eagles ran the ball down the Bills’ throats. Won’t matter with Washington, Cleveland, Miami and Denver up next.
This week: vs. Redskins (1-7). Last week’s ranking: 12.
Dropped out: Panthers (4-3).
Knocking on the door: Eagles (4-4), Rams (5-3), Jaguars (4-4), Raiders (3-4), Detroit (3-3-1).