The Colts and Saints continue their stranglehold on the top two spots of SB Nation's NFL power rankings, while a few fresh faces populate the top ten.
The Cardinals have leapt back into the mix (again), as have this week's big winners, the San Diego Chargers, who jumped up from 12th to 7th. The Bengals and Steelers flip-flopped spots after the former's gritty win.
The Falcons, meanwhile, were double losers in our power rankings. Not only did they fall to the Panthers last week, but they lost running back Michael Turner -- who was last seen doing things like this the past month -- for an extended period of time following a high ankle sprain. Absent Turner, our bloggers dropped the Falcons six spots, down to 16th.
Meanwhile, the Browns...what is there to say? Their coach is reduced to overhyping the possibility of the best player in the NBA suddenly leaving his sport and joining their team. It's been that kind of season.
NFL Power Rankings
|1 (2)||Indianapolis Colts 9-0||Regardless of what you think of Bill Belichick's 4th down gamble, Peyton Manning and the Colts deserve credit for their comeback that put the pressure on the Pats. And by forgoing the punt, Belichick not only showed faith in Brady and his offense, but paid Manning the ultimate compliment -- Belichick figured that wherever Manning started the drive from, the Colts would score. Can you blame Belichick for being haunted by visions of the 2006 AFC Championship game?|
|2 (1)||New Orleans Saints 9-0||The Saints keep winning -- barely. Though they managed to put away the pesky Rams last week, the Saints seemed to have lost the edge they had back in September, when they seemingly put up 40 points at will. While their schedule is favorable down the stretch, a matchup with the Patriots should be a good measuring stick for both teams.|
|3 (3)||Minnesota Vikings 8-1||For the non-fantasy players out there, get used to the name Sidney Rice. After his monster 200-yard game last week, the former South Carolina standout is fourth in the league in receiving yardage, and, along with Percy Harvin, has provided real balance to the Vikings' offense. They certainly seem to be the most complete team in the NFC right now.|
|4 (6)||Cincinnati Bengals 7-2||Are you ready for some field goals? After a dominating defensive showing against the Steelers last week, the Bengals are suddenly the team to beat in the AFC North, and appear built for January football: a tough defense and solid running game should make them a tough out for anyone.|
|5 (5)||New England Patriots 6-2||To go for it or not go for it. That was the question. And lots of words have been written on it. Smart Football adds a characteristically...smart take on Belichick's decision, and on the way biases infect our thinking. A shorter version is: Belichick trusted one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history to get him two yards to try to prevent one of the other greatest quarterbacks in NFL history from beating him. Unconventional? yes. Crazy? No.|
|6 (4)||Pittsburgh Steelers 6-3||A week after bullying the Denver Bronocs, the Steeelers were the ones getting pushed around by the divisional rival Bengals. Effectively two games behind Cincinnati due to the latter's sweep of the season series, the Steelers appear to have a lock on one of the AFC's wild card spots.|
|7 (12)||San Diego Chargers 6-3||While the Eagles blanketed Vincent Jackson, Philip Rivers and the rest of the offense managed to do just enough to send San Diego to their fourth consecutive victory, and a tie for the lead in the AFC West. And LT even made a cameo. Everything is clicking just in time for the Chargers' gargantuan matchup with the Broncos, that should go a long way towards determining the division champ. If momentum counts for anything, the Chargers should have a substantial edge.|
|8 (11)||Arizona Cardinals 6-3||While Ken Whisenhunt maintains that Tim Hightower will remain the starter in Arizona, it seems that the Cardinals coach staff won't be able to justify keeping Beanie Wells off the field much longer. With Wells emerging, the Cardinals should be able to bring a bit more balance to their offense, making them even harder to stop.|
|9 (7)||Dallas Cowboys 6-3||Where has Jason Witten gone this year? While Romo still targets him plenty, Witten's yards per catch are at a career low, and he's been a non-factor at the goal-line. With teams keying in on Miles Austin and Roy Williams generally hit-or-miss, the Cowboys will need more from Witten if they're going to develop some offensive consistency. (And losing RT Marc Colombo to injury won't help either)|
|10 (8)||Philadelphia Eagles 5-4||After only rushing for a paltry 29 yards during last week's loss to the Chargers, the Eagles will have to figure out how to get their running back on track, sans Brian Westbrook. Of course, with the Eagles it's more about making a commitment to running the ball, more than anything else. Perhaps losing Westbrook will, ironically, make the team lean more on the running game, as they likely don't trust their other running backs as much running routes or in pass protection.|
|11 (9)||Denver Broncos 6-3||The status of Kyle Orton's ankle will likely determine the Broncos' fate the rest of the season. If Orton can be effective, the Broncos should at least be able to wrap up a wildcard spot, especially given the fact that they finally started taking shots down the field last week (although some busted coverages by the Skins certainly helped). But if Orton is hampered, or can't play, the Broncos could be in a for a long second half of the season. Unfortunately, Chris Simms simply doesn't appear ready to be back on an NFL field.|
|12 (13)||Baltimore Ravens 5-4||Let's compare playoff schedules for AFC Wild card hopefuls. First, the Ravens : vs. Colts, vs. Steelers, at Packers, vs. Lions, vs. Bears, at Steelers, and at Oakland. To have a shot at the playoffs, they'll need to at least win one of their three games against the Colts and Steelers.|
|13 (14)||Houston Texans 5-4||And here's the Texans' remaining schedule: vs. Titans, vs. Colts, at Jags, vs. Seahawks, at Rams, at Dolphins, and vs. New England. If they win all the games they should win, they're in, although on the road against Jacksonville and Miami are no gimmes (especially considering the Jags took the first game against the Texans).|
|14 (16)||Green Bay Packers 5-4||Who has the best defense in the NFL? According to the Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, the Packers boast the top unit in the league. The Cowboys certainly won't disagree after last week's slugfest. But if the Packers are going to make a run at the playoffs, they need to do a better job keeping Aaron Rodgers upright.|
|15 (15)||New York Giants 5-4||While the Giants stayed pat in our Power Rankings, they had their best week in a month, making up ground on the Cowboys and Eagles despite not playing.|
|16 (10)||Atlanta Falcons 5-4||Uh-oh. With Michael Turner out and Matt Ryan continuing to go through a bit of a sophomore slump, the Falcons are suddenly in trouble. The schedule does them no favors, as they face the Giants, Eagles and Saints over the next month. Atlanta will need to win at least one of those games to stay in the playoff hunt.|
|17 (17)||Miami Dolphins 4-5||With Ronnie Brown out, who will run the Wildcat for the Dolphins? Option quarterback Pat White should see some more snaps, but Ricky Williams could be decent in the role too; he was a minor league baseball player, after all.|
|18 (20)||San Francisco 49ers 4-5||The Niners managed to not lose last week's game against the Bears, playing if safe on offense and letting Jay Cutler throw them the ball on defense. That strategy will work against mediocre-to-bad teams, but not against the top-tier teams.|
|19 (21)||Jacksonville Jaguars 5-4||
So the Jaguars win games when they get their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, the ball? Amazing. I guess that's called "coaching".
|20 (23)||Tennessee Titans 3-6||Chris Johnson should star in his own Vitamin Water commercial, because he's been sick, flat-out nasty, filthy, vicious, and ridiculous. Check the stats: 150 yards/game from scrimmage, nine touchdowns, and 6.4 YPC rushing. That last number is the most impressive. If the Titans had switched to Vince Young a few games earlier, they might have had an outside shot at the playoffs. As it is, they figure to be a serious spoiler down the stretch.|
|21 (22)||Carolina Panthers 4-5||For a team that relies on the running the ball as a first, second, and third option, having LT Jordan Gross go out with a broken ankle is an especially devastating loss. But don't expect the Panthers to stop handing it off every down; they've realized making Jake Delhomme as much of a bystander as possible is their best path to victory.|
|22 (18)||New York Jets 4-5||The Jets' recent play has been enough to make head coach Rex Ryan cry. But Roderick Boone of Newsday offers some perspective: The Jets have only lost by an average of 5.7 points/game, they clearly miss NT Kris Jenkins and QB Mark Sanchez has gone through some expected rookie growing pains. Certainly not Super Bowl contenders like the New York hype machine suggested during their 3-0 start, but not too bad for a team starting a rookie under center.|
|23 (19)||Chicago Bears 4-5||Where have you gone Kyle Orton? A fanbase turns its lonely eyes to you. With Matt Forte only averaging 3.3 YPC, the Bears have been forced to air it out the past few weeks. Unfortunately, that means Jay Cutler has had an even bigger impact on the game, as he continues to demonstrate his Grossman-esque decision-making. Orton and two firsts is sounding worse and worse each week.|
|24 (24)||Seattle Seahawks 3-5||With last week's loss to the Cardinals, the Seahawks essentially lost whatever hope they had of getting back in the NFC West chase. While they have some pieces on offense, their offensive line and defense simply have not been consistent enough for them to hang with better teams.|
|25 (25)||Buffalo Bills 3-5||The Bills finally sacked someone! Too bad it wasn't on the field. With the news that the Bills made a long overdue move getting rid of head coach Dick Jauron, the Bills can begin cleaning house and planning for next season.|
|26 (27)||Washington Redskins 3-6||If only the Skins can knock out the opposing team's starting quarterback every week, they might have a chance going forward.|
|27 (28)||Kansas City Chiefs 2-7||With Dwayne Bowe suspended for four games due to a PED violation, where will the offense come from for the Chiefs? To which Chiefs fans reply: we have an offense?|
|28 (26)||Oakland Raiders 2-7||The Raiders are redefining the term "quarterback controversy": it's not a question of whether Jamarcus Russell or Bruce Gradkowski should start, but whether the team should even use a quarterback, or just run the ball every play.|
|29 (29)||Tampa Bay Bucs 1-8||While the Bucs came this close to winning their second game of the season, they can at least take solace in the fact that their Josh Freeman-led offense is starting to put some points on the board. Now about that defense...|
|30 (30)||Detroit Lions 1-8||Lions fans can at least console themselves with the fact that they do not root for the Browns. The two teams face off this weekend, with the loser getting the inside track on the top pick in the draft and the winner getting a smidgen of self-respect.|
|31 (31)||St. Louis Rams 1-8||Some day some stat head will look back at Steven Jackson's 2009 season and ask: was this the greatest individual season in NFL history? Jackson has gone for 127 yards/game from scrimmage on a historically bad team with no other offensive options.|
|32 (32)||Cleveland Browns 1-8||Josh Cribbs' agent was none too pleased with his player being knocked out on a meaningless play with three seconds left in last week's 16-0 beatdown at the hand of the Ravens. To be fair, hasn't every Browns play been pointless this season?|