Now that the NFL season is past its midpoint, the usual suspects -- the Saints and Colts -- continue to dominate the upper levels of our Power Rankings, as voted on by SB Nation's NFL bloggers, while the defending champion Steelers continue to quietly stalk them.
The Cardinals were -- once again -- the big risers in this week's edition of SB Nation's NFL Power rankings, jumping up four spots to the cusp of the top ten after their beatdown of the Bears. The Chargers also catapulted up the rankings thanks to Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson's final minute touchdown that sent the Giants reeling to their fourth consecutive loss.
The Giants were, unsurprisingly, the week's big loser, tumbling four spots, as the memories of their 5-0 start fade faster than their playoff hopes.
And Tampa Bay's shocking win last week means a new team has set up residency in our Power Rankings basement. You might want to avert your eyes, Browns fans.
NFL Power Rankings
|1 (1)||New Orleans Saints 8-0||Eventually falling behind opponents by double digits will catch up with the Saints. But for now the Saints continue to win dangerously. And their opportunistic defense continues to rack up the touchdowns. It's just one of those years where the ball keeps bouncing right for them.|
|2 (2)||Indianapolis Colts 8-0||While the Colts were a bit lucky to win last week, it's undeniable that Manning and Co. have a knack for winning close games that the upstart Texans have not mastered yet. The Patriots should provide a stiff test for their patchwork secondary, in a Sunday Night Matchup that should make Al Michaels sit up.|
|3 (3)||Minnesota Vikings 7-1||With the Packers and Bears falling apart last week, the Vikings can start printing their NFC North champ shirts (not that it wasn't already clear Minnesota would win the division). Now they can begin to think about playoff seeding, and pacing Brett Favre, who has faded in December his past few years.|
|4 (5)||Pittsburgh Steelers 6-2||As SI's Jim Trotter points out, the Steelers only have one more game the rest of the season against a team that currently has a winning record (that being the Bengals). True, the Steelers face the desperate Ravens twice, but it's not entirely inconceivable that they could finish with 13 or 14 wins. With the defense back in dominating form, Rashard Mendenhall continuing his breakout campaign, and Ben Roethlisberger arguably playing the best football of his career, the Steelers may be even better than they were last year. Watch out.|
|5 (4)||New England Patriots 6-2||Brady! Manning! The RIVALRY OF THE CENTURY!!! But seriously, this should be a good measuring stick game for the Patriots, who have taken care of some lesser teams while Brady has gotten closer to full health.|
|6 (8)||Cincinnati Bengals 6-2||The underrated Bengals defense has been the story of the year in Cincinnati. A strong defense, solid running game, and efficient passing attack: who do the Bengals think they are...the Steelers?|
|7 (9)||Dallas Cowboys 6-2||Just when you thought it was safe to ignore the Cowboys, the Ewing Theory strikes with a vengeance. Absent the drama that is TO, the Cowboys have quietly begun clicking on both sides of the ball, climbing to the top of the NFC East standings.|
|8 (7)||Philadelphia Eagles 5-3||One of these years, Andy Reid will figure out clock management, and when he does, watch out! To be fair, Reid is one of the most consistent, accomplished coaches in the league, but once again, his foibles when it comes to end-of-game decision-making came back to haunt the Iggles. Despite being over .500, Philadelphia still has some kinks to work out offensively. Getting Brian Westbrook back should help --assuming he plays anytime soon.|
|9 (6)||Denver Broncos 6-2||While it's obviously not time to panic yet in Mile High, there are clear causes for concern. The Steelers hurdled Champ Bailey and the Broncos defense en route to 28 points, while Josh McDaniels continues to refuse to take shots down the field in the passing game. With a handful of winnable games down the stretch, the Broncos should be a lock for the playoffs, but they will need to get back to playing defense like they did at the beginning of the year, and begin to open things up offensively if they want to hang with the big boys in the AFC.|
|10 (13)||Atlanta Falcons 5-3||Watching Michael Turner bust hellacious runs like this is a welcome sight for Falcons fans. But unless Matt Ryan and the passing game get on track, Atlanta will struggle to make THE LEAP into the league's elite.|
|11 (15)||Arizona Cardinals 5-3||This time, the Cardinals didn't let the Bears off the hook. With the Niners faltering, the Cardinals are in control in the NFC West, and last week reminded the league that when they protect Kurt Warner, the Cardinals can seemingly score at will. Now if they can just get Anquan Boldin healthy...|
|12 (16)||San Diego Chargers 5-3||How good is Vincent Jackson? After last week's last second touchdown propelled the Chargers past the Giants, Jackson is on pace for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. With LT a shadow of a shadow of his former MVP self, the Chargers will go as far as Rivers and Jackson can take them.|
|13 (10)||Baltimore Ravens 4-4||With games against the Colts and Steelers (twice) left on the schedule, the Ravens have very little margin for error if they're going to keep playing beyond December. They could very well may be this year's "underachieving good team that surprises everyone by missing the playoffs."|
|14 (12)||Houston Texans 5-4||Are there moral victories in the NFL? Because by hanging tough after falling behind 13-0 on the road, and coming within a Kris Brown missed field goal of forcing overtime against the Colts, the Texans demonstrated that, even without Owen Daniels, they are for real. Don't be surprised if the Texans win the rematch in Houston in a few weeks.|
|15 (11)||New York Giants 5-4||It's officially crisis-time for the Giants. After dropping their fourth straight game, it's clear there are a host of question marks on both sides of the ball, most glaringly the red zone offense. And it's becoming more apparent each week how much the team misses safety Kenny Phillips, who was shut down after Week 2 with a degenerative knee condition.|
|16 (14)||Green Bay Packers 4-4||The "Any Given Sunday" mantra is certainly true...but playoff teams don't lose to teams like the Bucs --especially when they're trotting out a rookie quarterback for his first career start.|
|17 (17)||Miami Dolphins 3-5||The Dolphins are a solid team that generally won't beat itself, but fans are beginning to wonder if the Wildcat has run its course? While the Phins have done more with the formation than anyone else, the latest results indicate teams have caught up to it. The other question is, what does it do for a quarterback's rhythm to be coming off the field while the running back takes snaps?|
|18 (20)||New York Jets 4-4||After the early season hype and hope, the Jets have crashed back to earth (see what we just did there?). While Mark Sanchez has had the proverbial rookie growing pains, the defense has clearly felt the absence of NT Kris Jenkins, and hasn't dominated like it did in the season's first few games.|
|19 (18)||Chicago Bears 4-4||
Remember when the Bears were a trendy Super Bowl pick? Ouch. That was before Jay Cutler began doing his best Rex Grossman impersonation every other week, and the defense was beset with a host of injuries. Now the scuttlebutt is centering on whether head coach Lovie Smith and GM Jerry Angelo will last past this year. What do they say about the NFL? Oh, that's right: Not For Long /channeling my inner Mark Schlereth.
|20 (19)||San Francisco 49ers 3-5||While Alex Smith hasn't been the second coming of Joe Montana in his last few starts, he's been good enough to keep defenses honest and find emerging star Vernon Davis in the passing game, something journeyman Shaun Hill was mostly incapable of doing. The Niners may have gone back to the future to find their quarterback of the future.|
|21 (22)||Jacksonville Jaguars 4-4||Good things happen when the Jags get the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew. While the Chiefs largely bottled up the Jaguar's dynamo last week, the Jaguar's got something more important: the win.|
|22 (21)||Carolina Panthers 3-5||Muhsin Muhammad apparently can't figure out why the Panthers' wide receivers have only caught a single touchdown all season. Here's a hint: Jake Delhomme is awful. Okay, that's not a hint. But it's true. WIth DeAngelo Williams hitting his second-half stride, if the Panthers just had a quarterback who could hit open guys every now and then, the Panthers would be an interesting team. Alas, they do not, and are not.|
|23 (26)||Tennessee Titans 2-6||As much as Vince Young has energized them (and Chris Johnson has carried them), getting Pro Bowl corner Courtland Finnegan back has been key for the Titans, as they finally showed signs of life in pass defense last week.|
|24 (23)||Seattle Seahawks 3-5||Nate Burleson has guaranteed a win against the division leading Cardinals this week. If the Seahawks do pull off the unexpected, they'll suddenly be right back in the middle of the wacky NFC West chase. This wouldn't be the most shocking development in the NFl this season, but considering the Seahawks haven't shown they can beat anyone but the dregs of the league, and it seems highly unlikely.|
|25 (24)||Buffalo Bills 3-5||Terrell Owens might miss the team's Week 10 game...which is news to Bills fans who've been wondering where TO has been all year.|
|26 (25)||Oakland Raiders 2-6||The fact that a team quarterbacked by someone unfavorably compared to Ryan Leaf isn't even in the basement of our power rankings speaks to the level of putridity in the NFL this year.|
|27 (27)||Washington Redskins 2-6||It's fair to ask whether the Redskins will beat anyone (besides themselves) the rest of the year. With a trip to Oakland the only obviously winnable game in the season's second half, the Skins could be realistically looking at a two or three win season.|
|28 (28)||Kansas City Chiefs 1-7||Recently acquired Chris Chambers paid immediate dividends for the Chiefs last week. With the Larry Johnson situation no longer a distraction, it wouldn't be surprising for the feisty Chiefs to go on their own mini-Ewing Theory style run to close the year (and a "run" for the Chiefs would mean winning 3 or 4 games).|
|29 (32)||Tampa Bay Bucs 1-7||What was more shocking: that the Bucs won with rookie Josh Freeman making his first career start, or that they did so while overcoming the negative karma of their throwback creamsicle unis? But for the first time all year, there's some hope in Tampa Bay.|
|30 (29)||Detroit Lions 1-7||As a general rule, the Lions will struggle when Matthew Stafford completes more passes to the other team than he does to Calvin Johnson.|
|31 (30)||St. Louis Rams 1-7||Even when the Rams are on bye, they lose (in our power rankings). Been that kind of year for St. Louis.|
|32 (31)||Cleveland Browns 1-7||Eric Mangini mercifully pulled the plug on the Derek Anderson era. Browns fans want to pull the plug on Mangini.|