NFL power rankings, Week 10: Browns inch up while Bengals, Packers slip

Bob Levey

It was a good week for the NFL's underdog teams, taking favorites down to the wire and even pulling off some upsets. Needless to say, those results had an effect on this week's power rankings.

Week 9 was a rough one for the teams that usually sit near the top of this list. Seattle was nearly upended by the Buccaneers, in front of the 12th Man faithful no less. The Saints lost to another AFC East team, but this time it was the Jets. Kansas City remains undefeated, but needed a pair of second-half defensive scores to battle back against the Bills. On Monday, the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to a shoulder injury of unknown severity.

So how did it all shake out in the power rankings this week?

1. Denver Broncos

The Broncos gained ground by standing still this week, as none of the contenders below them put on the kind of show that would knock them out of the top spot. It remains to be seen whether coach John Fox's absence will impact their play, but the Manning-led offense is a pretty self-contained organism while Champ Bailey's Week 10 return should help elevate the defense. Get well soon, coach. (Last Week: 1)

2. Seattle Seahawks

In a week of narrow escapes, none forestalled greater embarrassment than Seattle's overtime escape from the winless Buccaneers. The Seahawks needed every bit of DangerRuss magic to pull this one out, and their run defense is officially a concern. They'll stick at #2 after similarly harried showings by the teams right below them, but the gap between Seattle and the next tier of contenders has narrowed considerably. The Seahawks will hope that the much-anticipated returns of Russell Okung and Percy Harvin can help widen it come Week 11. (Last Week: 2)

3. Indianapolis Colts

A narrow victory over a struggling Texans squad might have knocked the Colts down a peg if their immediate pursuers had turned in more impressive showings, but for now their Luck-led comeback over a desperate opponent keeps them in the #3 slot. Andrew Luck is a special player, but the Colts can't keep asking him to make plays on the run if they're going to go all the way. Likewise, the defense needs someone besides Robert Mathis to step up as a pass rusher while hoping that Vontae Davis can shake off his Andre Johnson roasting and get back to delivering A-grade coverage.  (Last Week: 3)

4. Kansas City Chiefs

Another week, another backup QB dispatched with extreme prejudice, and another week that makes you wonder exactly what Alex Smith is capable of against an upper-echelon opponent that's going to take 24 points or more to beat. Putting the Chiefs higher than fourth basically certifies them as a favorite to reach the Super Bowl, so consider this. In 2000, Trent Dilfer of the Ravens was 20th in the league in yards per attempt among QBs who threw at least 200 passes. In 2002, Brad Johnson was 16th. The Chiefs currently rank 31st, and that's only due to the pure havoc that Josh Freeman wrought on the Tampa Bay passing game. Even if you think the Chiefs D is the equal of all-time greats like the 2000 Ravens or 2002 Buccaneers, it's being asked to do even MORE heavy lifting than those units due to KC's punchless passing attack. (Last Week: 4)

5. San Francisco 49ers

After a week to rest and refit, the 49ers are no doubt champing at the bit to try to extend their five-game win streak. The additions of Mario Manningham and Eric Wright should provide a bit of a boost, and their showdown with the Panthers should be one of the most physical throwdowns of the season. (Last Week: 6)

6. Carolina Panthers

Carolina hasn't exactly played a murderers' row over its recent four-game win streak, but the Panthers have all but murdered every team they've faced. Blowing out bad teams is the hallmark of a very good team, and the Panthers may be just that if Kuechly & Co keep up their punishing ways while the Cam-centric offense continues to thrive. More than capable of replicating the beat 'em up approach that helped the Jets dispatch the Saints last Sunday, Carolina should make things very interesting in the NFC South. (Last Week: 9)

7. New England Patriots

What a difference some professional receivers make! Tom Brady reveled in a fully healthy Gronk and Amendola combo, peppering the pair for 265 yards and a couple of scores. With Aaron Dobson locking down the left WR job and growing in confidence, rumors of Brady's demise as a top-tier QB may have been greatly exaggerated. The pass defense needs Aqib Talib back in a hurry, but the Pats will score plenty if Brady's weapons keep going where they're supposed to. (Last Week: 10)

8. New Orleans Saints

Nobody shuts down Drew Brees, but with enough consistent interior pressure you can make the Saints work for their yards and force the occasional mistake. Not everyone has the front to accomplish that while also stuffing the Saints' run game (OK, that part isn't too hard), but plenty of teams have the ground game to punish Rob Ryan's light-in-the-britches front seven. That blueprint sets up nicely for squads like the Seahawks, 49ers and Panthers, and it's hard to like the Saints over any of those squads until we know that Darren Sproles is healthy and Marques Colston isn't completely done. (Last Week: 5)

9. Detroit Lions

Rather than sitting through a bye week, the Lions probably would have liked to carry the momentum from their stunning victory over the Cowboys straight into next week's game. But as long as 14 days wasn't long enough to make Matt Stafford forget that every other throw should be aimed at Calvin Johnson, or long enough for Ndamukong Suh to cause any more mayhem on the motorways, Detroit should be good to go for the season's second half. (Last Week: 11)

10. Cincinnati Bengals

A last-second road loss isn't the end of the world, but the loss of all-Milky Way Galaxy DT Geno Atkins on the heels of Leon Hall's Achilles tear could mean the end of the Bengals as an elite defense. They'll still be good enough to win the North if the Red Rifle doesn't trot out many more three-pick performances, but their status as a true contender depended on overwhelming defense. Oh, well -- if they get enough touches for Gio Bernard, maybe he can make up the difference single-handedly. (Last Week: 8)

11. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins logged an absolute had-to-have-it win over a red-hot Bengals squad, and there were encouraging signs of sanity on offense as they worked to get Mike Wallace involved early and often while giving the bulk of the backfield touches to the explosive Lamar Miller. Picking off Andy Dalton three times is more impressive than it would have been a month ago, and Miami will need the kind of relentless pressure personified by Cam Wake's game-winning safety if it's to stay within shouting distance of the Pats. (Last Week: 15)

12. Green Bay Packers

It's hard to know where to slot the Packers without knowing the prognosis on Aaron Rodgers' injured shoulder. While that's up in the air, let's slot them somewhere between their top-eight rank with Rodgers and somewhere much further down the line if it's the Seneca Wallace Show. Of course, they weren't the only team on Monday night sporting a backup QB. Packer Backers had to be disconcerted with how Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery toyed with their corners with Josh McCown throwing the ball (though it must be said that he played an objectively good game). Their normally solid run D got run over as well -- all the more reason that they need Rodgers back ASAP. (Last Week: 7)

13. Cleveland Browns

Break up the Browns! That's two solid efforts in two weeks with Jason Campbell at the helm, and while his conservative approach imperils the fantasy values of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, it's tailor-made to complement an impressive Cleveland D. It had to feel good to kick some sand back in Baltimore's face after 11 straight losses to the Ravens. While Cleveland isn't playing an aesthetically pleasing brand of ball, it isn't dropping out of the Bengals' rear-view mirror, either. (Last Week: 20)

14. San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers keeps churning out the passing yards, and he keeps needing every one of them thanks to the Bolts' shockingly poor secondary. He came up literally one yard short on his swing pass to Danny Woodhead, and settling for a field goal doomed the Chargers to an overtime where they never saw the ball. Keenan Allen is tearing up secondaries and battling Eddie Lacy for Rookie of the Year honors, but San Diego has to get stops to have a shot at a Wild Card. (Last Week: 12)

15. Chicago Bears

The pall that settled over Halas Hall with Jay Cutler's groin injury lifted a bit on Monday night, as Josh McCown led the Bears to their first win at Lambeau Field since ... Josh McCown was starting somewhere?  McCown played well -- aided and abetted by his monstrous pair of wideouts -- but things figure to take another step forward if Cutler is able to return in Week 10. The defense still has a lot to prove against actual NFL QBs (sorry, Seneca) and got mauled on the ground yet again. If Cutler's back healthy they could win a shootout or two. Which is just a weird thing to say about the Bears. (Last Week: 17)

16. Dallas Cowboys

This is one Cowboys fan who felt better about the team right after their loss to the Broncos than after Sunday's skin-of-their-teeth escape from a dreadful Vikings squad. The passing game hasn't even approached the aggression and abandon it showed while going toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning, and when you adjust for opponent quality the secondary is now playing even worse. With every other NFC East opponent playing at a higher level than they were when they first encountered the Cowboys, Dallas will need to raise its game just to take the league's worst division. (Last Week: 14)

17. Baltimore Ravens

The bye week didn't prove an effective tonic for the Ravens. Their season-long struggles to move the ball on the ground and to stop the pass continued -- Joe Flacco as the leading rusher and Jason Campbell sporting a 116.6 QB rating will never be confused with hallmarks of a successful Sunday. The losses of Kelechi Osemele and Jimmy Smith won't do anything to help alleviate those problems, and at three games out in the division there have to be some tight collars at Ravens HQ. (Last Week: 13)

18. Tennessee Titans

The Titans may just be playing average ball, but that was enough to get by the below-average Rams at home. Chris Johnson can't let his 150-yard outburst stand as his typical twice-a-season tease, Jake Locker can't throw interceptions when he's tied or ahead, and the Titans' defense can't keep getting mauled by opponents' ground games. Should Tennessee rectify those can'ts, it CAN challenge for a playoff berth on the strength of strong pass defense -- but the Titans will have to overcome a lot of recent history to do so. (Last Week: 19)

19. Arizona Cardinals

Rest. Reflection. Scouring Craigslist for a left tackle. These are the hallmarks of a bye week in the desert, and Arizona had better emerge with a ton of vigor to have any chance at making up some games and snagging a Wild Card berth. Carson Palmer will likely get crushed one (or 10) too many times to pull that off, but at least the Arizona defense can lay some beatings of its own. (Last Week: 16)

20. New York Jets

Expressing contempt for last week's unjust ranking, the Jets played a ferocious game to knock off the Saints. New York loves to attack a weak front with Chris Ivory, and the defense was able to get enough interior pressure on Brees to force some bad throws and make sure that the run stayed on the table all day. The loss of  No. 1 receiver Jeremy Kerley stings some, though, as it makes things even dicier the next time the Jets need to put a game in Geno Smith's hands. (Last Week: 28)

21. Philadelphia Eagles

Well, THAT was unexpected! While there was a school of thought that Nick Foles might be Philly's best option at quarterback, he wasn't exactly at the top of the "Guess Who'll Equal Manning's Ravaging of the Ravens" pool. If Foles can keep delivering the accurate intermediate and deep throws Chip Kelly's offense has been craving, then the Eagles' bevy of pass rushers can get the chance to play from ahead. If they manage that combo, the Eagles have a real shot at the East. (Last Week: 29)

22. Washington Redskins

He didn't find the end zone, but RGIII found a tonic in the Chargers' low-wattage pass defense. He's still struggling to reset his feet and make good throws when pressured, but the balls from a clean pocket are looking better and he's got some upper-echelon weapons in Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed. Given the state of the Skins' secondary, he'll need them. (Last Week: 22)

23. Houston Texans

Sunday night's loss was an absolute heartbreaker, but excitement over Case Keenum has to make that pill a bit easier to swallow for Texans fans. The early returns on Keenum are solid, and his willingness to attack downfield must be like water in the desert for Andre Johnson. Unfortunately, Keenum isn't the only one who likes to attack downfield, and the Texans' good-looking counting stats in pass defense belie a real vulnerability on the back end. (Last Week: 21)

24. New York Giants

The Giants couldn't have enjoyed watching their division mates go 3-0 last Sunday, but a week off had to be welcome for aching players like Ryan Mundy, JPP, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. The return of Andre Brown should juice the run game a bit, and if Eli has gotten the INTs out of his system, the Giants should at least have a puncher's chance in the division. (Last Week: 27)

25. Oakland Raiders

So THAT'S what happens when the pass rush doesn't get home! Lamarr Houston and company couldn't get their hands on Nick Foles often enough, and the Raider secondary got a historic roasting. On the offensive side, the loss of Darren McFadden hurts, but if Terrelle Pryor's knee turns out to be a problem, this ranking is going to fall through the floor. (Last Week: 18)

26. Buffalo Bills

Pitting Jeff Tuel against a ferocious defense is no recipe for success, and the overmatched QB tossed a pair of picks to help sabotage a game effort from the Bills. Things could be looking up soon, though, as the return of E.J. Manuel figures to stabilize the offense while C.J. Spiller may finally be ready to hit top gear. Can you hear Spiller's fantasy owners cheering? If they sound a bit muffled, it's because they're all in the cellars of their respective leagues. (Last Week: 25)

27. St. Louis Rams

If you see a running back tearing up good SEC defenses while playing on a bad SEC team, grab him. The Rams did just that, and Zac Stacy is paying dividends as a between-the-tackles hammer. He and the Rams' front seven are playing Fisherball, but you've got a better chance of winning Powerball than you do of seeing Kellen Clemens outduel a QB who's getting to feast on St. Louis' porous secondary. (Last Week: 23)

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

Roethlisberger is giving it his all, but between a collapsing defense and a leaky O-line, there's too much to overcome. Sacked or hit 12 times against the Pats, it's fair to wonder if Big Ben is going to last the season if he keeps getting called on to make 50 throws a game. Without a major turnaround by a lackluster Steeler D, that may be exactly what he has to do. (Last Week: 26)

29. Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta just doesn't have the horses on either side of the ball right now. Matt Ryan can't generate enough offense with second-string receivers -- and a turnstile left tackle -- to keep up with the parade of points generated by the Falcons' pitiful pass defense. It's a lost season in the Dirty South. (Last Week: 24)

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Well, the Bucs demonstrably haven't quit on Schiano yet as they gave the Seahawks all they wanted at the Clink. Of course, coming up short after a supreme effort like that can be pretty deflating, so it will be interesting to see if they can rally next week against Miami. The good news is that Mike Glennon is looking like he belongs. Doug Martin's fantasy owners can feel free to vomit after being reminded what a featured back can do in that offense when he's not being absolutely scuttled by the QB. Good show, Mike James. (Last Week: 31)

31. Minnesota Vikings

Christian Ponder finally got to face a secondary as pitiful as the one he goes up against in practice, and managed to not look half bad -- outside of the two fumbles and the interception. OK, so maybe that's at least two-thirds bad. An absolutely patchwork secondary acquitted itself well, but when "acquitted itself well" still means 300+ yards in the air and two TDs, get ready for some absolute roastings down the stretch. (Last Week: 30)

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

Coming off a bye week, the Jags are rested, ready ... and still the worst team in the league. Outside of a full Buccaneers mutiny, it's hard to imagine what kind of Kafkaesque nightmare would have had to take place for a team to drop past the Jags in the rankings. (Last Week: 32)

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