We have arrived at that point in the season where things are muddled. Only two undefeated teams remain, and both of those squads showed some wrinkles last week. Preseason favorites like the Packers are struggling to separate from the middle of the pack.
Week 6 delivered plenty of good football -- the big finish in New England, a Lions comeback and Denver failing to cover the biggest spread in history. That's great for entertainment, but it makes power rankings a beast to tackle. We soldier on anyway. If we don't put together a thoughtful, but arbitrary ordering of all 32 NFL teams, who will?
I realize you're probably getting tired of seeing Denver's name atop every arbitrary weekly list of NFL teams (unless you're a Broncos fan). But what other team belongs here, based on what we know at this point of the season?
This week's tilt with the Jaguars was a trap game, and if you picked Denver to cover the 27-point spread, it was a loss. This was Denver's worst game of the season. Peyton Manning and Co. produced only 407 yards and scored 35 points, both season lows. Three turnovers by the offense were a season high. I think it was a blip.
NBC already gave Peyton's return to Indianapolis this week an appropriately sentimental soundtrack (it actually plays like the guy's funeral train is making its last stop). But Von Miller's return to the lineup might be the most notable change, apologies to the Peacock network's histrionics.
It's getting harder to read the top of the NFC. Overall, Seattle still looks like the best team in that conference. A blowout win over the 49ers in Week 2 is the best argument in the Seahawks' favor right now. A narrow loss to the Colts and a narrow win over the Titans, in Seattle, this week are enough to make you question that. Russell Wilson's ability to run the ball made for Seattle's best offensive plays this week. That can't last, and neither can the miserable special teams play.
That was a tough loss last week to the Patriots, and mostly self-inflicted. Clock management shouldn't be that hard.
But let's talk about Drew Brees. This was, arguably, his worst game of the season. It was the first time all year that he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Did New England shutting down Jimmy Graham really make that much of a difference? It certainly didn't help. Another statistic of note: New Orleans has yet to produce more than 400 yards of offense on the road this season.
The positive takeaway for the Saints this week is that the defense continued its strong play. Defending Tom Brady in the hurry-up offense, even with those piecemeal receivers, is no easy task. Had Rob Ryan's unit gotten a little help from Sean Payton's, the Saints would still be undefeated.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
This was a one-score game until the fourth quarter. It was the second week in a row that Alex Smith didn't throw a single touchdown pass, and he averaged just 4.1 yards per attempt. This was against the Raiders, at Arrowhead. At some point, the Chiefs are going to get into a situation where Smith has to do the heavy lifting.
Then again, that defense just might be good enough to keep Kansas City in any game this year. A pick-six on Terrelle Pryor in the fourth quarter and 10 sacks highlighted what this unit's capable of doing.
The Texans, Browns and Bills are next on the schedule before we finally get to see the Chiefs and Broncos duke it out in Week 11.
I was tempted to move the Colts up after a Monday night win, but it was the Chargers who surprisingly dominated in primetime. After three straight wins, including two over the NFC West powers, the Indianapolis offense was lethargic, failing to punch it into the end zone on MNF. They could not keep their defense off the field, and the Chargers ground them down for their second loss of the year. It doesn't get any easier with the No. 1 Broncos, and all of the attendant drama of Peyton's return up next.
What's more impressive than this week's comeback win? The Patriots are playing well through big injuries. We've seen Tom Brady elevate a cast of rookies and soon-to-be forgotten depth chart guys into a good-enough supporting cast. It's been painful at times and there's nothing smooth about this offense anymore. But that's what Tom Brady does.
I thought the loss of Vince Wilfork would undermine the Patriots defense against a high-powered Saints team this week. Joe Vellano bounced back from a bad outing in Cincinnati and held his own along with Chris Jones in the middle. But the game ball went to Aqib Talib, who held Graham to no catches on six targets. Talib eventually left the game with a hip flexor. It's not serious, which is even better news than a last-second comeback in Week 6 of the regular season.
Sunday's overtime win against Buffalo was A.J. Green's first game with 100+ yards since Week 1. It also happened to be Andy Dalton's first game since Week 1 that he averaged more than 8.4 yards per attempt, netting his best single-rated game so far. Tell me the two aren't related.
So Dalton had a better game, but the Bengals still needed overtime to beat the Bills and Thad Lewis, Buffalo's third-string quarterback. Cincinnati has a knack for beating the good teams and struggling with the bad ones.
The 49ers have two sacks in their last two games. Two. And those were games against Houston and Arizona, not exactly known this year for great and mobile quarterbacking. Now comes news that Aldon Smith might not be able to play at all this season.
On the upside, someone finally told Colin Kaepernick that Vernon Davis can catch passes. He had his first game with more than 100 receiving yards since Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith last year. It's only the second time since Week 5 last year that Davis reached triple digits.
Eddie Lacy has 219 rushing yards in Green Bay's last two games. That's going to be really important with Randall Cobb out for potentially two months with a broken fibula and James Jones now questionable going forward with a PCL sprain.
10. Chicago Bears
Just as Chicago's offense find its way, the defense starts struggling. Injuries and age are a big reason, and no unit's been hit harder than the defensive line. Last week against the Giants, the Bears turned to Corey Wootton for pressure from the middle, and it worked. He recorded seven total pressures on Eli Manning.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Just how far can a defense take a team by itself nowadays? Not all that far apparently. Baltimore's offense is a wreck. Ray Rice is struggling. The offensive line is hurting the running game and the passing game. Despite having a cadre of second- and third-string players to throw the ball to, Jim Caldwell is having Joe Flacco throw it almost 40 times per game.
12. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo didn't throw for 500 yards this week, and the media somehow hasn't found a way to skewer him about it. The lack of hot takes in the NFL right now is America's most underreported crisis.
Of course, there wasn't much to dislike about the way Romo played; it just wasn't as eye-popping on the stat sheet. His lone touchdown pass, to Terrance Williams was a beauty. He rolled out to his right, shook off a pair of oncoming rushers and hit Williams with a perfectly placed pass in the corner of the end zone. If Dallas can stick it out through injuries to DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray, they're a lock for the NFC East at this point.
13. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had a bye this week. Nobody was happier about that than Ryan Tannehill. Miami's offensive line, or lack thereof, is holding this team back.
14. Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson makes the Lions better by just being on the field. Megatron returned to action this week and was topped by tight end Joseph Fauria's three catches for 34 yards and three touchdowns. Exactly like you predicted. The Lions offense is finally more than just Calvin Johnson this season, and that bodes well for a shot at the NFC North title.
15. Tennessee Titans
Jeff Fisher's imprint on this team is still visible. Offensively, they'd like to run the ball, but can't seem to manage much production. Chris Johnson had 33 yards. His yards per carry was the best it's been over the last three games, at 2.75. Gregg Williams, Fisher's former defensive coordinator, got another solid effort out of his unit at least. Things you thought you'd never say: This team needs Jake Locker back in a bad way.
16. Houston Texans
What a wreck. Gary Kubiak has his running game working well against the Rams (Arian Foster ran for 141 yards). Naturally, he decided to get Matt Schaub more involved in the offense right when he didn't need to. Schaub's benched now, whether it's because of his ankle injury or not. It's not going to make a difference for a team that was once considered an AFC favorite this season. And just to really rub salt in the team's collapse, J.J. Watt was rendered invisible by the Rams offensive line.
The Eagles joined elite company this week, thanks to a 425-yard performance against the hapless Buccaneers. Chip Kelly's team has produced at least 400 yards for six straight games now. Only three other teams have done that, including the 2013 Broncos. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns, making it that much harder for Michael Vick to rejoin the starting lineup at a later date. Once this team gets a defense, big things are going to happen.
18. Atlanta Falcons
A bye week means nobody from the Falcons hurt their foot, tore an ACL or fell into a pit filled with punji sticks. That's as good as it gets for the Falcons right now.
San Diego and Oakland have more in common than incessant rumors about a looming L.A. relocation. This is a team outplaying some pretty low preseason expectations. Their AFC West peers have Terrelle Pryor to thank. The Chargers have Mike McCoy and whatever he's been whispering into Philip Rivers' ear.
20. New York Jets
Just when the NYC tabloids crown you, someone knocks it off your head. I'm moderately surprised there haven't been calls today for Geno Smith's head on a platter from those same outlets. The New York Post was too busy trolling Adrian Peterson with racist columns, I suppose. At any rate, it was a rough outing for the rookie. He was a woeful 6-for-14 on passes 10 yards or more down the field, per Pro Football Focus. That includes a third-quarter interception that boosted the Steelers' win probability past the 80 percent mark, where it stayed for the rest of the game.
21. Cleveland Browns
For as much as the front office dislikes Brandon Weeden, they must really have a deep, abiding disdain for Jason Campbell. Weeden may have played the worst game of his career this week, and that's an accomplishment. He fumbled, threw two picks (one of which was an abominable underhand shovel game-ender thingy), and added an embarrassing intentional grounding penalty for good measure.
22. St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford has 13 touchdown passes this season, tied for the third-most among all NFL quarterbacks. He's still only averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, same as Alex Smith. Only Blaine Gabbert and Mike Glennon have lower marks. But that's okay. The Rams have recommitted to the running game after trying some bastardized version of the spread. That should help Bradford rise to the level of elite game managers.
Carson Palmer looked bent on challenging Eli Manning for the league lead in interceptions Sunday. He threw two in the first 10 minutes of the game. There were bad throws, missed assignments, dropped balls and a fumble, but the Cardinals sprung back to life in the second half. Palmer's not a long-term answer for the Cardinals, but what's the short-term range Bruce Arians has in mind?
Cam Newton threw the ball 26 times. The Panthers ran it 39 times. Surprisingly enough, all that balance paid off. Newton threw three touchdown passes and added another one on the ground. Best of all, Newton's 9.3 yards per attempt was his best mark this season. This team's too talented to be under .500 this year.
I guess it's because they trailed by a wide margin for most of the game. How else do you explain Matt Cassel throwing the ball 44 times? And, yes, he looked exactly like Matt Cassel doing it. Leslie Frazier is still deciding who his starting QB will be this week, for some reason. Tip: Go with Josh Freeman.
26. Buffalo Bills
Mike Tomlin's team finally got the first win out of the way, six games into the season. The most encouraging part was the defense, which held the Jets to six points. That's the lowest total in a single game since 2008, and the Jets were on the ropes quickly. That's the pattern Pittsburgh needs to follow this week with a game against the Ravens.
It was a better outing from RGIII, until the fourth quarter at least. Washington worked in more read option plays this week too. Griffin's nine carries and 77 yards on the ground were his best totals of the season.
29. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders played the Chiefs to a 7-7 draw through the first two quarters last week. Terrelle Pryor was only sacked three times in the first half. Sure, three sacks is a lot, but it's nothing compared to the seven sacks he took in the second half of the game. The most astounding, pleasantly surprising stat about the Raiders this season is that the defense is only allowing an average of 22 points per game. Perhaps Oakland isnt' quite as far away from a rebuilt franchise as we thought.
30. New York Giants
Hakeem Nicks trade rumors are really the only thing keeping the Giants interesting right now. If Jerry Reese can get a decent enough offer, he ought to take the draft picks and run. The sooner this team finds as much new blood as it can get, the sooner they'll get back to being the contending Giants we're used to..
Moving up from the worst spot to the second-worst spot in an online power rankings might be the lone highlight of Jacksonville's season. They kind of won this week, covering a ridiculous spread thanks to some gutsy play calling by a coaching staff that clearly knew where their team stood in relation to the opponents.
Dead last? Tampa Bay's a better team than Jacksonville on paper, but they have something Jacksonville doesn't: Greg Schiano. A shower of boos played the embattled head coach off the field this week, after his team found yet another way to shoot itself in its MSRA-free foot. His team has none of the on-field discipline he thought he could instill by controlling thermostats and (possibly) leaking confidential information about a player. Over at Bucs Nation, they're calling for his head. At 0-5, Schiano's going to quickly lose the support of his players too, if he hasn't already.