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NFL power rankings, Week 9: Broncos, Patriots ascending

The Atlanta Falcons are still undefeated, but they have some legitimate challengers for the top spot in the NFC. The Texans are still in second after a bye week, but things are changing rapidly in the AFC.

Scott Heavey

Are we overvaluing the Falcons because of a 7-0 record? Probably just a little, but some stats are just too hard to argue with. Perfect records through Week 8 are one of those stats. The NFC's one percent consists of the Falcons, Giants, Bears and Packers.

Over in the AFC, the Broncos and the Patriots are rounding into form. There might finally be a team capable of challenging Houston for the top spot in that conference.

Here's our ordered list that explains EVERYTHING you need to know about the NFL after eight weeks.

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1. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 1, 7-0) All the Falcons did this week was beat the Eagles, 30-17, in Philadelphia. Lost Sunday in all the rubbernecking of Andy Reid's slow march to pink slip land was a dominant Falcons team in control of its own destiny. This undefeated thing could last awhile, too. Mike Smith and Co. do not play a team that currently has a winning record until a Week 15 date with the Giants, a potential preview of the NFC Championship.

2. Houston Texans (LW: 2, 6-1): If the Texans and the Falcons met in the Super Bowl, it would be a very good game. And a very boring one, as devoid of personalities as they are rife with talent.

3. New York Giants (LW: 3, 6-2): Eli Manning has been winning in Dallas since the Cotton Bowl in 2004. He and the Giants own a 4-0 record at Jerry Jones' temple of sprawl.

4. Chicago Bears (LW: 4, 6-1): Jay Cutler led two second-half touchdown drives and moved the team close enough to kick the game winner to hold off a Carolina upset at Soldier Field.

5. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 6, 6-2): "Jive turkeys" can "gobble, gobble" all they want, but the 49ers rolled up two NFC West opponents in a row. This team is healthy and has a week to soak out the aches and pains of the season so far.

6. New England Patriots (LW: 7, 5-3): Bill Belichick flew to London on Friday, half annoyed that he had to be there. His team carved up the Rams for 45 points and came home.

7. Green Bay Packers (LW: 5, 5-3): I think the Packers get caught taking it easy sometimes. The Jaguars were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sure, a touchdown means a lot more to Jacksonville than it does Green Bay, but that still seems a little close.

8. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 8, 5-2): I wonder how Joe Flacco spent the bye week?

9. Denver Broncos (LW: 12, 4-3): Peyton Manning's forehead is radiating psychic mind-control waves right now that he has the Broncos laser-focused on playing football into February. Even John Elway's skull has been penetrated.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 11, 4-3): If only the Steelers could play all their games at home this season. They cannot. This week, the team travels to New York to play the Giants.

Previous Power Rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8

11. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 9, 5-3): Is the Minnesota Miracle just a mirage? The secondary took a hit with the loss of Chris Cook. Christian Ponder came back to earth. The Vikings were never a serious threat to win the division, but this team should compete for a wildcard spot.

12. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 10, 4-4): Two weeks ago, we were all talking about what a tough division the NFC West was shaping up to be. Well, everybody else was. A wise person should deny ever saying something so preposterous.

13. Miami Dolphins (LW: 20, 4-3): Congratulations, Miami, you are second best in the AFC East. That means this team is better than the Bills or the Jets. Ryan Tannehill is having a surprise rookie season, but the real story here is an overlooked defense keeping opponents to an average of 18 points per game.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 13, 3-4): After the season, Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren, both unceremoniously relieved of their duties, plan to tour the Pan-American Highway on Honda Goldwings, dressed in moo moos with the exact same print. It will be madcap fun until they run afoul of some sadistic federales.

15. Washington Redskins (LW: 14, 3-5): RGIII can do almost everything, except play receiver and heal Pierre Garcon's foot.

16. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 16, 4-4): You're probably wondering how this team got off to a 4-0 start.

17. San Diego Chargers (LW: 15, 3-4): I know the economy has to be in halfway decent shape, because corporate sponsors bought up enough tickets to keep a Thursday night game against the Chiefs (!) from being blacked out locally.

18. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 18, 3-4): The Bengals have lost three in a row. The Broncos and Giants are the next two games on the schedule. Marvin Lewis needs to win one of those two games to have any chance at a second straight wildcard.

19. Detroit Lions (LW: 24, 3-4): Matthew Stafford has three game-winning drives this season. He had four in 2011. How many more times will he have to do it to keep the Lions in the wildcard chase?

20. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 17, 3-4): The best part about covering the Cowboys is going to be what happens when the season ends. In a weird quirk of the stats, Dallas technically blew a fourth-quarter lead, adding to the indignity of total collapse.

21. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 22, 4-3): The Colts have Andrew Luck and little else, but that's been good enough to get to second place in the AFC South with a winning record. Luck led his team on game-winning drives in the final frame in three of those wins.

22. Tennessee Titans (LW: 21, 3-5): Chris Johnson now has three games in a row with 90 rushing yards or more. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, his best number since 2009. The rest of the Titans are mostly a mess, especially on defense where the team has allowed opponents to score 30 points or more in six of eight games.

23. Buffalo Bills (LW: 23, 3-4): Mario Williams had minor wrist surgery while the Bills were on bye. This is probably not what Buddy Nix imagined in the midst of a spring free agent shopping spree.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 26, 3-4): Here is this week's official team to keep an eye on. The Bucs dismantled a not insignificant Minnesota team on the road this week, winning two of the last three games.

25. New York Jets (LW: 19, 3-5): Supposedly owner Woody Johnson is the only one who likes Tim Tebow. Rex Ryan is the only one who likes Mark Sanchez. What could possibly go wrong?

26. Oakland Raiders (LW: 28, 3-4): Congrats, you beat the Chiefs on the road. Catching the Broncos is outside the realm of possibility; staying ahead of the Chargers for second place in the division is not.

27. New Orleans Saints (LW: 25, 2-5): The Saints defense has allowed every single opponent this season to accumulate 400 yards or more. Three times they have allowed more than 500 yards.

28. St. Louis Rams (LW: 27, 3-5): A soft Patriots pass defense was supposed to be a coming out party for Sam Bradford and the Rams offense. They scored seven points on a first quarter touchdown and took the rest of the day off, along with a thoroughly confused defense.

29. Cleveland Browns (LW: 30, 2-6): Hey, Pat Shurmur actually went for it on fourth down ... and it worked. I suspect Jimmy Haslam had a talk with the lame duck head coach after last week.

30. Carolina Panthers (LW: 29, 1-6): The good news is that the Panthers are not the league's worst 1-6 team. If Carolina can build on what they did against the Bears, Cam Newton will have nothing to be sad about anymore.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 32, 1-6): Offensive tackle Guy Whimper now has more touchdown catches than Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson. Also notable is that the Jaguars don't seem to be much worse for wear without Maurice Jones-Drew.

32. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 31, 1-6): Welp, so much for Brady Quinn as the great white hope in Kansas City. At this point the Chiefs should probably trade Dwayne Bowe for a new general manager to use the draft picks.

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