As the baseball season ends and the basketball season begins, football remains the constant. The only thing that will change is the standings in this week’s power rankings – who rose, who fell, and who made the biggest statements midway through this 2012 season? Let’s find out:
1. Atlanta Falcons (7-0) – Last Week: 1
The undefeated just keep on winning. This week, the Falcons used – surprise, surprise – QB Matt Ryan, with his 262 passing yards and 3 TDs – to cruise past the Eagles, for their first 7-0 start in franchise history. It’s almost a foregone conclusion for an Atlanta W if Ryan throws for 3 or more TDs (career 15-0 record). But with the Cowboys’ 3rd-ranked passing D coming to the Georgia Dome next week, can they rely on their RBs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers to get their 24th-ranked run game going?
2. New York Giants (6-2) – Last Week: 3
After a near-inexplicable loss to the Eagles on September 30, the Giants have rattled off four straight wins for an undefeated October. In that span, they wiped out an NFC power (49ers) and beaten two division opponents in two weeks – the latest by avoiding a 23-point collapse to the Cowboys, winning with two Lawrence Tynes FGs. Now Eli Manning and Co. face off against the No. 1 passing defense in the league, in a Steelers team that has won 3 of 4 since their bye week.
3. San Francisco 49ers (6-2) – Last Week: 5
It certainly was an unexpectedly great way for QB Alex Smith to bounce back from a dreadful performance vs. the Giants last week: setting a record for completion percentage with at least 15 pass attempts (18-for-19) and throwing 3 TDs against a division opponent should give him a little confidence. The Niners’ reward for putting themselves two games ahead of the pack in the NFC West? A bye week before another division battle vs. St. Louis.
4. Houston Texans (6-1) – Last Week: 2
It doesn’t seem fair to drop the Texans two spots while they are on their bye week. Though I doubt they would be too offended – after all, their ranking will most likely shoot up if they keep on their current pace. Despite dealing with the fact that backup RB Ben Tate (hamstring) will most likely miss their upcoming matchup vs. the Bills – a team with a former franchise DE that now says he didn’t want to leave – there isn’t much of a reason to believe they will falter next week.
5. Denver Broncos (4-3) – Last Week: 8
I’ll admit that this is a pretty high mark for a four-win team that just thumped the two-win Saints on Sunday Night. Then again, in what was touted as a shootout and a rematch, for QBs Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, of Super Bowl XLIV, it was pretty one-sided. Then there’s the fact that Manning had his fourth straight 300-yard, 3-TD performance; only Steve Young and Rich Gannon had more non-consecutive instances in one season. With LB Joe Mays out for the season (leg) and the expected return of CB Tracy Porter, Manning will need to keep the production going vs. Cincinnati.
6. Chicago Bears (6-1) – Last Week: 4
The Bears had an absurdly tough time with the one-win Panthers on Sunday, trailing for most of the game, and needing a last-second FG from Robbie Gould to take the victory going away. They were dominated in every statistical category that mattered (total offense, time of possession, 3rd-down efficiency) in a game that, for all intents and purposes, they should have lost. Nonetheless, they survived at home to welcome a deceivingly tough Titans team in Week 9.
7. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) – Last Week: 7
When a team is pretty much quiet on the homefront (other than a report that the Ravens should have reported an injury to S Ed Reed), there doesn’t seem to be anything that they seem to be panicking about during their bye week. Then again, they probably should be – if they hope to keep a firm hold of the AFC North, they must get RB Ray Rice more involved, as, apparently, he averages 19.3 rushes in wins (vs. only 13.9 rushes in losses).
8. Green Bay Packers (5-3) – Last Week: 9
It wasn’t the most impressive of wins – especially against a one-win club that has struggled on offense all season – but it was their third in a row, putting themselves in good shape for the stretch run in the second half of the season. Despite getting outdueled by Blaine Gabbert, QB Aaron Rodgers’ 186 yards and 2 TDs were enough for the victory. They will host the free-falling Arizona Cardinals next week for a chance to go 3 games over .500 before their bye.
9. New England Patriots (5-3) – Last Week: 12
It was a jolly ol’ trip to London, ironically enough, for the Patriots, who annihilated the Rams at Wembley Stadium. They outscored St. Louis 38-0 after the first quarter. QB Tom Brady found the mojo he didn’t really have for the month of October, throwing for 4 TDs on 304 yards passing. RB Stevan Ridley continues to be an effective complement in the running game (127 yds rushing, 1 TD), and should continue their offensive firepower against division rival Buffalo.
10. Minnesota Vikings (5-3) – Last Week: 6
The Vikings suffered a head-scratching home loss – their first of the season – to the Buccaneers on Thursday night. They were dominated in almost every major statistical category, unable to come back from a 13-point deficit early in the second quarter. It obviously didn’t help that their best cover corner, Chris Cook, broke his arm and is likely to miss the rest of the season (though he was placed on revocable IR). With RB Adrian Peterson almost all the way back, they will face a test in Seattle’s stout rush D.
11. Miami Dolphins (4-3) – Last Week: 14
Despite being on the short end of many of the game’s statistical categories, the Dolphins no less blew out the Jets at home, to reach the over-.500 mark. That’s 3 wins in a row, for those of you keeping count, for a team that started the season 1-3. Don’t look now – the ‘Fins, despite an up-and-down offensive attack led by QBs Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore, have quietly positioned themselves a half-game back of the Pats for the AFC East lead.
12. Seattle Seahawks (4-4) – Last Week: 10
Despite an impressive 105-yard performance from RB Marshawn Lynch, which included a 77-yard TD run, the league’s 13th-ranked passing defense (227.1 yds/gm) couldn’t hold down Matthew Stafford in the closing minutes. Now they find themselves at .500 in an NFC West division that they are slowly losing their grip on. Can they stop the bleeding against a Vikings team looking to bounce back from a loss of their own?
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) – Last Week: 16
QB Ben Roethlisberger had, arguably, his best individual game in a month (222 pass yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) in a resounding victory over the Redskins. Holding Washington QB Robert Griffin III to under 200 total yards, the Steelers used another impressive performance by RB Jonathan Dwyer (17 carries, 107 yds) to control the clock and get to over .500. Now, with the league’s top-ranked pass defense, they will now be tasked to shut down Eli Manning and the Giants’ explosive air attack.
14. Dallas Cowboys (3-4) – Last Week: 13
Despite QB Tony Romo’s 437 yards passing, the Cowboys could not conquer their division foes in the Giants, nor avoid a sub-.500 record, with their third loss in four games. It doesn’t help that, without RB DeMarco Murray, their running game only had 19 yards on the ground – they currently have the league’s 28th-ranked run offense (86.0 yds/gm). It may not matter against the undefeated Falcons – they will most likely need their 3rd-ranked pass game to keep up in what may be a shootout.
15. Arizona Cardinals (4-4) – Last Week: 11
With the chance to tie the 49ers in the division, and end a three-game losing streak, on the line, the Cardinals fell flat on the Monday Night stage. In their second game led by QB John Skelton, the offense couldn’t get into the end zone against one of the league’s top defenses in the 49ers. After such a promising start, they are now at .500, and will need to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers if they hope to stop the bleeding.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) – Last Week: 15
Despite his struggles, QB Michael Vick was primed to face off against the team that drafted him. And, on the plus side, he didn’t play as bad as he had these past few weeks (191 yards, 1 TD, 0 TO). However, his team still got blown out by his Falcons successor, Matt Ryan, in a 13-point loss. After a winless October (0-3), the Eagles will have the challenge of slowing down another all-world QB, when they face Drew Brees and the Saints next week.
17. Buffalo Bills (3-4) – Last Week: 18
Coming off their 35-34 loss to the Titans last week, they expect to get their franchise DE Mario Williams back, after a quick turnaround from wrist surgery during the bye week. Williams is probably looking forward to facing his old team, the Houston Texans, in Week 9. Hopefully the fact that he has said he made a mistake leaving the Texans will not affect his play on Sunday – a crucial game for Buffalo, with a .500 record on the line.
18. Detroit Lions (3-4) – Last Week: 21
After being held to 7 points against the Bears last Monday night, it seems that QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense righted the ship against one of the better defenses in the league, vs. Seattle (352 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT). Second-year WR Titus Young also had a breakout game, catching 9 balls for 100 yards and 2 TDs. While they’re hurting in the secondary (CB Bill Bentley on IR; S Louis Delmas likely out), going up against a Jaguars team with the league’s worst defenses can’t hurt for the league’s 2nd-ranked pass offense.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) – Last Week: 22
It was a good Thursday night for RB Doug Martin, who compiled 214 yards (135 rushing, 79 receiving) in a blowout win over the upstart Vikings. Meanwhile, QB Josh Freeman had 262 pass yards and 3 TDs of his own – underrated for a team that is currently under .500. They will have a puncher’s chance of seeing themselves with a winning record, as their next three games are against teams with a combined record of 7-14 (SD, OAK, CAR).
20. Indianapolis Colts (4-3) – Last Week: 24
The Colts find themselves over the .500 mark for the first time since 2010, with their win over the Titans on Sunday. In a contest where they mostly trailed, QB Andrew Luck needed an acrobatic TD by RB Vick Ballard in OT to take the victory. It came at a cost, as both TE Coby Fleener (shoulder) and CB Vontae Davis (knee) will be out at least two weeks. For Davis, he will miss a meeting with his old team, Miami, who come in with a three-game winning streak.
21. New York Jets (3-5) – Last Week: 17
The Jets just can’t seem to get everything together – despite beating the Dolphins in time of possession, total offense and passing yards, they couldn’t beat them on the scoreboard, making this their fourth loss in five games. With people still scratching their heads about their offense – especially the dynamic of their two QBs, Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow – the Jets continue to back Sanchez as their starter. Can he get it together for a meeting with the Seahawks in Seattle?
22. Washington Redskins (3-5) – Last Week: 19
The ‘Skins were hoping to bounce back from a division loss to New York, only to run into a steel wall. The league’s 2nd-ranked rushing attack (166.3 yds/gm) was limited to a mere 86 yards on the ground vs. Pittsburgh, only scoring 12 points. CB DeAngelo Hall’s ejection during the game didn’t help matters on defense. The Redskins hope to tune out the inevitable media comparisons between QBs Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, and recover against a Panthers team that has lost five straight.
23. St. Louis Rams (3-5) – Last Week: 20
Things looked promising after their 3-2 start, but looks to be taking a bit of a nosedive after their blowout loss in London to the Patriots, 45-7. Giving up 473 yards on defense, they couldn’t get anything going after the first quarter. The only bit of good news after the loss is that they will get WR Danny Amendola back, with the hopes that he will help stop the three-game losing streak after their bye week, against the 49ers in Week 10.
24. Tennessee Titans (3-5) – Last Week: 23
RB Chris Johnson had his third strong effort in a row (21 carries, 99 rushing yds), but their two-game winning streak was snapped at the hands of division rival Indianapolis. Despite their recent success, it didn’t stop head coach Mike Munchak from squashing any inklings that current QB Matt Hasselbeck would lose his starting job – as long as Jake Locker is still injured, that is. In any case, the Titans will have a tough time against the Bears as they look to Sunday.
25. Oakland Raiders (3-4) – Last Week: 28
QB Carson Palmer (209 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and RB Darren McFadden (114 rush yds) helped the Raiders get their first winning streak of the season, with a victory over division rival Kansas City. For McFadden, it was his first 100-yard performance in over a month, and, despite 4 FGs from Sebastian Janikowski, they effectively blew out the Chiefs in a much needed road win. They will welcome a Tampa Bay team coming off an impressive victory over Minnesota, hoping to keep their own streak going.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) – Last Week: 26
Word out of Cincy during the bye week, on the heels of their three-game losing streak, has been the struggles of QB Andy Dalton – he currently boasts 1,831 passing yards, 13 TDs and 10 INTs through 7 games, playing much worse (5 TDs, 7 INTs) in losses. It’s gotten bad enough, apparently, for head coach Marvin Lewis to openly challenge him to play better moving forward. It starts with a showdown against Denver in Week 9.
27. New Orleans Saints (2-5) – Last Week: 25
In what was expected to be a shootout between two of the league’s top QBs, Drew Brees couldn’t live up to his end of the bargain (214 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). While RB Darren Sproles played a role in the scoring (29-yard TD reception), he and the running game are currently dead-last in the league (72.6 yds/gm), despite the top-ranked passing offense (316.0 yds/gm). With a Philadelphia Eagles team coming to town on a three-game skid, they have a good chance to get back to winning ways.
28. Cleveland Browns (2-6) – Last Week: 31
It certainly was a pleasant surprise for the Browns to get their second victory of the season. Though, they did need to completely shut down the Chargers offense (265 total yards, 6 points), and get a relatively herculean effort from RB Trent Richardson (122 rushing yards, 1 TD) to eke out the win. More props to Richardson, considering he sledded the ball with an injured rib. While they won a low-scoring game, can they take the sheer winning momentum into their division matchup with Baltimore?
29. San Diego Chargers (3-4) – Last Week: 27
Well, that certainly wasn’t the way they wanted to come off their bye week – being held to a mere two FGs and lose to one of the worst teams in the league. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened – despite RB Ryan Mathews’ 95 yards on the ground, they couldn’t generate anything in terms of a scoring offense. With what may be the low point in the season behind them, they must look ahead to a Thursday night showdown at home vs. the Chiefs.
30. Carolina Panthers (1-6) – Last Week: 30
You have to hand it to the Panthers – they played the six-win Bears tough for 48 minutes, only to lose on a last-second FG. QB Cam Newton had 314 yards passing, while the running game combined for 114 yards, as they statistically dominated the game. Then again, they couldn’t get a passing TD (to 2 INTs) while K Justin Medlock had five FGs (three inside 35 yards), which usually won’t win games. Hopefully they can take whatever momentum they got from the effort into Washington next week.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) – Last Week: 32
While they have been near, or at, the bottom of these power rankings for most of the season, they deserve this much – QB Blaine Gabbert’s 303-yard, 1-TD performance against the Packers needs to be highlighted as one of the best outings of his short career. Mind you, this was without any semblence of a running game. Unfortunately, they have lost four straight, and will now have to deal with another prolific passer in Matthew Stafford next week against Detroit.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6) – Last Week: 29
While they got some good production out of QB Matt Cassel (218 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT), the Chiefs still managed to lose their fourth straight, with their sixth straight loss at home to the Raiders. They could not produce any kind of pass rush on Raiders signal-caller Carson Palmer, and committed four turnovers in the loss. If they can get their running game going again (RB Jamaal Charles: 4 yds on 5 carries), they may stand a chance on Thursday against the Chargers. Otherwise, it’s more of the same for, most likely, the next month.