NFL Power Rankings: Do undefeated Steelers or defending champion Chiefs deserve the No. 1 spot?

Frank Schwab
·13 min read

The most misleading old quote regarding football analysis — aside from “defense wins championships” — is from Bill Parcells.

At some point, Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are.” And it stuck. Even he says he doesn’t remember exactly when or how he came up with it as it became one of the NFL commandments.

In the life of a football coach, it makes sense. Playoff berths are handed out on records, not on advanced stats, eye tests, injury excuses or anything else. And a coach’s record is what ultimately determines if he keeps his job another year.

However, a team’s record is not necessarily the best way to evaluate the true strength of a club. One-game samples are a bad way to judge a team. So are seven- or eight-game samples, for that matter. Teams have different schedules. In the NFL, a highly competitive league in which the gap between the best and worst teams isn’t as wide as some like to believe, many games are decided on a lucky break. We don’t like to hear that. We want to believe in clutch performances and that if Team A beats Team B, it means without any doubt that Team A is better. Most of the times that’s true. Not every time.

With that said, let’s have a discussion about the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last remaining undefeated NFL team.

The Steelers are 7-0. They’ve earned that record. They have gone on the road and beaten the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, two good opponents. A blowout win over the Cleveland Browns is solid too. Pittsburgh isn’t a fraudulent 7-0. They’re very good.

But ask yourself, if the Steelers and 7-1 Chiefs played this week on a neutral field, would you pick the Steelers over Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City?

Point differential favors the Chiefs (Kansas City is plus-101, the Steelers are plus-69). Net yards per play favors the Chiefs. Football Outsiders’ DVOA per-play metric favored the Chiefs before Week 8, and Pro Football Focus’ grades like the Chiefs too. Super Bowl odds at BetMGM also favor the Chiefs, and it’s not that close.

It’s not egregious if you’d pick the Steelers over the Chiefs in that hypothetical matchup, but presumably most people would take Kansas City if they’re being honest. And if that’s the case, why would you rank the Steelers No. 1 ahead of Kansas City?

Another Steelers note: Baltimore outgained the Steelers 457-221 yards. The Ravens had 265 rushing yards to 48 for the Steelers.

From NFL Research: “Since 1933, there had been 217 games entering Sunday in which a team had at least 250 rushing yards and had at least twice as many total yards as its opponent. Those teams had a combined record of 215-1-1, with the Rams losing to Washington in 1944 and the Lions tying the Vikings in 1967 despite meeting those thresholds.”

You can get outplayed and win a game if you win the turnover battle or other breaks go your way. Let’s not forget, that was also the same Ravens team the Chiefs handled easily earlier this season. Focusing solely on a team’s record and nothing else is a good way to sort standings, but you’ll make plenty of mistakes if you think that’s the only way to assess how good a club is.

Nobody is taking away the Steelers’ seven wins. Nobody should be saying they’re not one of the NFL’s best teams. They could win a Super Bowl and nobody should be surprised. If you’re looking at the standings and nothing else, the Steelers are your No. 1 pick. But sometimes there’s more to it than a team’s record. Nobody tell Parcells.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes could meet up in the playoffs. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes could meet up in the playoffs. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Here are the power rankings after Week 8 of the NFL season:

32. New York Jets (0-8, Last Week: 32)

I’ve seen a few things questioning if the Cowboys are actually the NFL’s worst team. If you’ve seen enough of the Jets, you know the answer is no.

31. Dallas Cowboys (2-6, LW: 31)

If it’s Ben DiNucci against the Steelers this weekend, how many quarters would the Cowboys have to play to score a touchdown? Eight? 12? 24?

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6, LW: 30)

Gardner Minshew II has fractures in his thumb and the Jaguars said rookie Jake Luton will get the start this week. This is going to get uglier in Jacksonville.

29. New York Giants (1-7, LW: 29)

I don’t want to hear gripes about whether there should have been a penalty on the two-point conversion. I have no idea how Daniel Jones didn’t make the play. His late, inaccurate throw was the reason this didn’t work. Don’t blame the refs for this.

28. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1, LW: 28)

It’s hard to be more unimpressive in a win than the Eagles were on Sunday night. They are a bad team, and there’s way too much talent on hand for them to be so awful.

27. Washington Football Team (2-5, LW: 27)

After watching “Sunday Night Football,” I feel even better about picking Washington to win the NFC East.

26. Houston Texans (1-6, LW: 25)

Texans chairman and COO Cal McNair had this to say about the trade deadline on KILT 610, via the Houston Chronicle: “No big moves. You'll see some little things that happened over the weekend. We like our players. We have a lot to play for.” Maybe that’s to maintain some leverage, but you wonder which team McNair is watching when he says that.

25. Minnesota Vikings (2-5, LW: 26)

Dalvin Cook had 226 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday in a win over the Packers. The rest of the Vikings combined had 98 yards and no touchdowns. It’s hard to find a box score like that, in which one player is that important in winning a game.

24. Atlanta Falcons (2-6, LW: 24)

Foye Oluokun, a 2018 sixth-round pick out of Yale, seems to be a huge hit for the Falcons. He was in on two fourth-down stops in a win over the Panthers and has been a positive in a mostly rough Falcons season. "He’s having a phenomenal year ... At this point, it’s not shocking. It’s almost expected for him,” Falcons coach Raheem Morris said.

23. Detroit Lions (3-4, LW: 19)

Getting blown out at home by the Colts and losing receiver Kenny Golladay should squash any good feelings about the Lions. Now it’s time to see how many plays the Lions can waste on Adrian Peterson carries and if management can be hoodwinked again into giving Matt Patricia another year.

22. Los Angeles Chargers (2-5, LW: 21)

The Chargers are the first NFL team to lose three straight games that they led by 17 points, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Only the 2020 Chargers and 2003 Falcons blew three 17-point leads over a full season. Anthony Lynn is 7-16 over the past two seasons and it is hard to imagine him keeping his job if the Chargers don’t start winning some games, and fast.

21. New England Patriots (2-5, LW: 18)

It’s weird to see that record next to the Patriots. Before this year, the Patriots had lost five games in a season just once since 2009. It felt like we saw the Patriots’ best effort in a hard-fought game to the Bills on Sunday, and they still lost. Bill Belichick hasn’t had the challenge of keeping a losing team focused for a long, long time.

20. Carolina Panthers (3-5, LW: 17)

Christian McCaffrey is expected to practice this week and could play Sunday, according to NFL.com. That would be great because the game is better when McCaffrey is adding to his highlight reel.

19. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1, LW: 23)

It was a nice win against the Titans on Sunday, and a big one for Zac Taylor. No matter how good Joe Burrow might look in Taylor’s offense this season, Taylor was 3-19-1 coming into Sunday’s game and that’s not generally the type of record that leads to a third season.

18. Denver Broncos (3-4, LW: 22)

For most of Sunday’s game, Drew Lock didn’t get anything going. At halftime, he hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 1 against Tennessee. It’s overstating things to say the comeback and a three-touchdown second half saved his job in the short and long term. He certainly needed something positive, and came through in a big way.

17. San Francisco 49ers (4-4, LW: 14)

Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle are out for a while. The Super Bowl hangover is real for many reasons, and one is that you can have a really talented roster and run up against some rotten injury luck.

16. Miami Dolphins (4-3, LW: 20)

Thanks to defensive and special teams touchdowns, Tua Tagovailoa’s 12-for-22, 93-yard effort in his debut won’t get much scrutiny. But Miami isn’t winning many games with eight first downs and 145 yards of offense.

15. Chicago Bears (5-3, LW: 15)

How are things going in Chicago? The headline on Mark Potash’s column for the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday: “Why is Nick Foles worse than Mitch Trubisky?” So ... yeah.

14. Cleveland Browns (5-3, LW: 12)

Since the season opener, the Browns have averaged 405 yards of offense in their five wins and 221.5 yards in their two losses. Terrible weather was a big factor in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders but the offense shouldn’t be this inconsistent.

13. Las Vegas Raiders (4-3, LW: 16)

Las Vegas has faced a ridiculously tough schedule: at Carolina, New Orleans, at New England, vs. Buffalo, at Kansas City, vs. Tampa Bay and at Cleveland. To be 4-3 through that stretch is impressive. And the schedule is going to get a lot easier.

12. Arizona Cardinals (5-2, LW: 10)

It looks like Kenyan Drake might miss just one week due to his ankle injury, according to Kyle Odegard of the team’s website. Having Drake helps. The Cardinals still need to give Chase Edmonds a bigger role, even when Drake returns. He has earned it.

11. Los Angeles Rams (5-3, LW: 8)

Speaking of losing a game that you mostly dominate, the Rams more than tripled the Dolphins’ yardage, 471-145. That’s the first time a team with more than 450 yards lost to a team with fewer than 150 yards since the Ravens beat the Jets in 2000. Give the Dolphins’ defense credit for making some big plays, but it’s hard to ding the Rams too much. Just a weird loss.

10. Indianapolis Colts (5-2, LW: 13)

The Colts tried to talk around it, but rookie Jonathan Taylor got benched on Sunday for Jordan Wilkins. And Wilkins played well. With just 389 yards on 100 carries, Taylor hasn’t taken off with the opportunity he got after Marlon Mack’s season-ending injury. Maybe it was due to an ankle injury the Colts said Taylor is dealing with. It will be interesting to see where the Colts’ running back situation goes going forward.

9. Buffalo Bills (6-2, LW: 9)

Finally beating the Patriots and practically knocking them out of the AFC East race was a big deal. But it has been weeks since the Bills looked good, and they almost blew Sunday’s game against a New England team that is decimated due to personnel losses, opt-outs and injuries. Maybe finally slaying the dragon will lead to them playing better in the second half. The talent is there.

8. New Orleans Saints (5-2, LW: 11)

The Saints have won four straight by a combined 15 points, and all four wins are by six points or less. Three of the wins came against teams below .500 and the fourth came against a suspect Bears team. Are the Saints any good? We might find out against Tampa Bay in Week 9.

7. Tennessee Titans (5-2, LW: 7)

What happened in Cincinnati? The Titans looked very good through five games, took a reasonable loss to the Steelers and then had a massive letdown against the Bengals. The Titans were never really in the game, which was the most shocking part. For now we’ll look at it as a one-off performance by a good team.

6. Green Bay Packers (5-2, LW: 5)

The Packers’ draft class might be even worse than expected. First-round pick Jordan Love hasn’t played, of course. AJ Dillon has 97 yards on 23 carries. Josiah Deguara has one catch for 12 yards. The next three picks, all offensive linemen, have a combined 25 snaps on offense, all by tackle Jon Runyan. The final two picks, both defensive players, have 10 combined tackles with no starts. It’s hard to say the Packers would have won Sunday with some rookies making any impact, but it wouldn’t have hurt.

5. Baltimore Ravens (5-2, LW: 2)

Lamar Jackson can’t turn the ball over like he did. But there’s no real reason to overreact to the Ravens’ two losses. They lost to the two best teams in the NFL. They lost to the Steelers despite a massive edge in yardage. Despite being two games behind the Steelers, they have a better point differential than Pittsburgh this season. Baltimore is still a quality team. It’s just in a hole in the division, and it will be tough to catch Pittsburgh.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, LW: 4)

Let’s assume the Buccaneers were looking ahead to a showdown against the Saints in Week 9. Because that was not a good performance. It was a win, so now Tampa Bay can gear up for a game that might be the deciding factor in who ultimately wins the NFC South.

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-1, LW: 6)

49ers quarterback Nick Mullens took his first snap Sunday vs. Seattle with 14:02 left in the fourth quarter. He finished with 238 yards. Again: Nick Mullens. Seattle is a fun team and a good one, but the pass defense is stunningly bad.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0, LW: 3)

The story of Sunday’s game, had the Ravens not let the Steelers back into it, might have been Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles. He was 4-of-10 for 24 yards in the first half. It was alarming how he was missing throws. Roethlisberger got hot in the second half and made some big plays. Still, the first half was a little concerning going forward, considering this still is a 38-year-old quarterback with a repaired elbow who has thrown short at a much higher frequency this season.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (7-1, LW: 1)

I’ll make this simple, to sum up the words at the top of this post: The Chiefs are the best team in football and I’d still pick them to win the Super Bowl. That’s why they’re No. 1.

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