The second half of the season is officially in full swing, and, while the top of the food chain remains relatively the same, the rest of the power rankings is in constant flux, with each win and unexpected loss. Here’s how I rank them this week:
1. Green Bay Packers (9-0) – Last Week: 1
How many ridiculous passing performances does QB Aaron Rodgers have to have (250 yards, 4 TDs this week) before pundits like Skip Bayless give him some respect? More and more it looks like GB will go undefeated in regular season.
2. San Francisco 49ers (8-1) – Last Week: 2
Could they beat a Super Bowl-winning QB in Eli Manning? Could they really rely on QB Alex Smith to win a game? Could they win without All-Pro RB, Frank Gore? With one of the best D’s in the league: Yes, yes, and yes. They could cruise to an NFC West title, and have a legitimate shot at home field advantage, even with games vs. Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the next month.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) – Last Week: 6
Big jump back up for Steel Nation. Seemed to recover nicely from last week’s last-second loss to Baltimore by bringing upstart Cincinnati back down to Earth. Relied on what usually wins: Run game (Mendenhall’s 2 TDs) and Defense (2 INTs vs. QB Dalton). Look good going into their bye week.
4. New Orleans Saints (7-3) – Last Week: 8
Sure, they were helped in OT by gutsy (or stupid) call by Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, but got big division win for third in four games. They control their NFC South destiny with a fortunate schedule coming out of next week’s bye, with conceivably winnable matchups the rest of the way.
5. Houston Texans (7-3) – Last Week: 11
Hard to ignore a team with one of the best running games in the league, rattling off fourth straight win. While their strength of schedule is much to be desired (wins vs. teams w/ combined 24-41 record), they may rattle off 11- to 12-win season. But with reports that QB Matt Schaub is out the rest of the season, this ranking could easily plummet.
6. New England Patriots (6-3) – Last Week: 10
Brady did what Brady does, against Jets team that had everything to gain, and lose, on Sunday night (329 yards, 3 TDs). Though their pass defense is 32nd in NFL, they may not need it to win out this season: remaining opponents with combined 21-43 record.
7. New York Giants (6-3) – Last Week: 4
Showdown in San Fran was a tough loss to take for a team coming off big comeback win vs. New England. With a winnable game vs. PHI looming, they have a daunting schedule after Thanksgiving: @ NO, vs. GB, @ DAL. If they go 3-0, they’ll rocket up the rankings again.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) – Last Week: 5
Showed they could hang with a championship-caliber team in the Steelers, even though Dalton’s 2 picks gave them a reality check. Rookie QB will have to play better vs. Baltimore’s sixth-ranked pass defense, while shutting down RB Ray Rice with their third-ranked rush defense.
9. Baltimore Ravens (6-3) – Last Week: 3
It is utterly baffling to see a team that swept the season series vs. a vicious rival just a week before, lose to a struggling Seattle Seahawks team – lest we forget they also struggled vs. Arizona two weeks ago. A seesaw team that needs to gain bearings for next two games: vs. Cincy, and vs. San Fran. Uh-oh.
10. Chicago Bears (5-3) – Last week: 13
Reports of their demise were highly exaggerated. Bears came out swinging (in more ways than one) in dominant win over a high-powered Lions team. All facets were shown – including another Devin Hester special teams TD – with a squad positioning itself to make a run at a playoff berth.
11. Detroit Lions (6-3) – Last Week: 7
Needed to assert themselves in Chicago, and fell flat. Detroit is now 0-3 when scoring under 20 points, and are 1-3 since their 5-0 start. They may find refuge next week vs. Carolina, but must continue search for solution to 27th-ranked rushing attack, as RB Jahvid Best is still out with a concussion.
12. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) – Last Week: 15
The ‘Boys are starting to look like the high-powered playoff-caliber team many claimed they were before the season. QB Tony Romo seems to keep finding more weapons through the air – this time, with WR Laurent Robinson. With winnable games the next three weeks, they could contend for NFC East title on December 11.
13. Atlanta Falcons (5-4) – Last Week: 12
While it would be easy to pile on head coach Mike Smith for going for it on fourth down, deep in his own territory, in OT, it doesn’t change the fact that they are now looking up at the Saints for the division lead, and will need their fourth-ranked rush D to stop a suddenly-hot Chris Johnson and the Titans next week.
14. Buffalo Bills (5-4) – Last Week: 9
Wasn’t it only a month ago that the Bills were 4-1, and in control of the AFC East? Well, they just got humiliated for their third loss in four games. At least Bills WR David Nelson got to pull a quasi-Ian Johnson with his Dallas cheerleader girlfriend … for Buffalo’s only TD.
15. Oakland Raiders (5-4) – Last Week: 18
At the moment, the Silver-and-black control the division. But, considering the teams behind them are all only a game back. At least QB Carson Palmer looks to be finding his stride, and RB Michael Bush looked good in Darren McFadden’s absence. They’ll need him for their next game vs. Minnesota’s intimidating pass rush.
16. Tennessee Titans (5-4) – Last Week: 20
Got their first big game out of RB Chris Johnson (130 yards, 1 TD) in dominating win over Carolina. But that was against run D ranked 28th – can he do it against the Falcons’ stout ground defense? Big opportunity to take control of AFC South, now that Houston QB Matt Schaub is out for the year.
17. New York Jets (5-4) – Last week: 14
Big opportunity wasted in embarrassing division loss to Patriots team recovering from last-second loss to NYG the week before. Hopefully for them, head coach Rex Ryan’s reverse psychology will work when they face off vs. Tim Tebow’s suddenly-hot Broncos in Week 11.
18. Denver Broncos (4-5) – Last Week: 21
QB Tim Tebow, as the centerpiece of a team that has won three of four, is, by far, the biggest enigma the NFL has ever seen: despite only TWO completions Sunday at KC, he won second straight division game on nothing more than guile and guts (and 2nd-ranked run game). What will he do next vs. Jets team looking to get back in AFC East race?
19. San Diego Chargers (4-5) – Last Week: 16
Their losing streak has reached four – two coming from division opponents. Could reach six games with Chicago (13th in rushing) and Denver (2nd in rushing) upcoming, and 24th-ranked rush defense. The way things are going, it could be head coach Norv Turner’s final year.
20. Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) – Last Week: 19
The Chiefs have lost two straight in humiliating fashion (vs. zero-win Miami; vs. Denver team that had only two pass completions). Now, QB Matt Cassel could be lost for season with a broken hand, adding injury to insult.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) – Last Week: 17
The Bucs have been in a freefall since their 3-1 start. In their four losses since October 3, they have been outscored 136-46. New DT acquisition Albert Haynesworth seems to be only bright spot, and current losing streak could stretch into December. Their awful running game (ranked 25th) and running defense (ranked 29th) definitely isn’t helping.
22. Seattle Seahawks (3-6) – Last Week: 28
As bad as Baltimore looked in the loss, Seattle looked good in the win. RB Marshawn Lynch had second straight 100-yard game, and could get first win streak next week vs. St. Louis. Their only problem? They just lost rookie OG John Moffitt for the year with a knee injury.
23. Arizona Cardinals (3-6) – Last Week: 26
Kudos to the Cards and backup QB John Skelton for bringing the “Dream Team” Eagles to the brink of non-playoff purgatory. They have their first win streak of the season, and could notch a significant win on their belt if they can play the same vs. division-leading San Francisco in Week 11.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) – Last Week: 25
Good news: the Jags won their second in three games, and RB Maurice Jones-Drew went for 114 yards and 1 TD on 25 carries. Bad news: They did it against the Colts, who literally can’t beat anyone. Perhaps Cleveland’s third-worst rushing defense may help them start a win streak.
25. Cleveland Browns (3-6) – Last Week: 23
The Madden Curse just punched the Browns in the face: as RB Peyton Hillis (on the cover of Madden ’12) continues to sit out with a hamstring injury, Cleveland lost to 2-win STL, for third straight defeat. Shame for a team that is first against the pass, but 30th against the run.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) – Last Week: 22
The season is officially a failure, and heads may roll for this. It was one thing to fall to 3-6, but to do it with WR DeSean Jackson on the sidelines, seemingly on his way out of Philly, and QB Michael Vick nursing broken ribs? And to the Cardinals, no less? Rattling off seven straight wins with this squad is unrealistic; good luck getting to the playoffs now.
27. Washington Redskins (3-6) – Last Week: 24
After starting 3-1, heading into their bye week, the ‘Skins have lost to teams like Philadelphia, Miami and Carolina en route to a five game losing streak. Averaged 10.6 points per game with the second-worst running offense going forward.
28. St. Louis Rams (3-7) – Last Week: 31
St. Louis’ win over Cleveland on Sunday completed a feat not achieved by the NFC West since realignment in 2002: All four teams won games in the same week. RB Steven Jackson has now rushed for over 125 yards in three straight games, and will need him with three straight division games coming up.
29. Miami Dolphins (2-7) – Last Week: 30
Well, they’ve done it, now: after starting the season with seven straight losses, the Dolphins have completely knocked themselves out of the #SuckForLuck race with two straight wins. On the bright side, RB Reggie Bush is finding somewhat of a renaissance in South Beach, scoring two TDs on Sunday and contributing to a rushing attack averaging 114.2 yards per game.
30. Minnesota Vikings (2-7) – Last Week: 27
On the bright side, RB Adrian Peterson had a decent game, considering they went up against the 8th-ranked run D (50 yds), and the Vikes’ only TD. Seriously, though – the team seems to be going nowhere fast. All they can do now is see how well rookie QB Christian Ponder progresses throughout the rest of the season.
31. Carolina Panthers (2-7) – Last Week: 29
On the other end of the rookie QB spectrum, Cam Newton finally looked human, without a TD in the Panthers’ loss to Tennessee. But don’t get it twisted – Newton isn’t the reason Carolina has lost five of six.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-10) – Last Week: 32
The Colts have now averaged 6.75 points per game in their last four games. With reports that Peyton Manning continues to wait for his neck to heal, owner Bill Polian has now said that he will consider a QB in next year’s draft. With that said, let me be the first to welcome Andrew Luck to Indianapolis.