After one of the wildest, craziest weeks in recent memory, the NFL landscape looks completely different as the dust from Week 6 fades. A lot of changes are to be expected in this week's power rankings.
With the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons winning in a late-game thriller, will they finally move into the top spot overall? The San Francisco 49ers might be the most complete team in the NFL, but the New York Giants put a beating on our former No. 1. Big changes, indeed.
Power rankings aren't based on standings, so toss out those win/loss records. Sure, wins and losses matter, but they aren't the only factor here. Impact, who would win on a neutral field, and the eye-ball test are also contributing factors in this week's NFL power rankings.
There isn't much silver lining on the Kansas City Chiefs cloud this season. With just one win and a clear deficiency at quarterback, things aren't looking good for Romeo Crennel's team.
What's most frustrating when watching the Chiefs is that they have a clear talent advantage most weeks. On paper, this should be one of the best teams in the league. They have an elite runner, big-play wide receivers, a talented line and a stout defense. Again, on paper.
Put these parts on the field and the product is unwatchable at times. The coaching staff needs to right the ship quickly, as the seat under Crennel has to be heating up.
The Cleveland Browns were the last team to get its first win of the 2012 season, but it was a good one.
There is so much young talent on this team that it's easy to see them improving over the course of the year. Beating the Cincinnati Bengals has the potential to be a defining moment for a franchise that's consistently in rebuilding mode. And most importantly, the Browns are no longer winless.
One victory isn't likely to jump-start a playoff run, but for at least one week the fans in Cleveland can feel like winners.
So close...yet so far.
That may be the theme of the Oakland Raiders' 2012 season. The team looked ready to upset the Atlanta Falcons, but it was like a switch was flipped late in the fourth quarter and the team remembered that they weren't supposed to win big games.
The good news is that the Raiders shouldn't even be in these types of games. Beating the Atlanta Falcons isn't supposed to be on the radar for this year's team, but credit Dennis Allen for having his team ready to go against an undefeated team.
A well-timed bye week helps the Jacksonville Jaguars get healthy, but what's really needed is innovation.
There are explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball, and while they may be inconsistent at times, the Jaguars need to unleash their athletes. This isn't breaking news—the coaches and fans know it—but whether or not Mike Mularkey will take the handcuffs off Bob Bratkowski's offense and Mel Tucker's defense remains to be seen.
Picking the Jaguars to win more than four games over the rest of the season would be very optimistic, but if they can get healthy and if Mularkey opens things up, it's not unthinkable.
The struggles of rookie quarterbacks are well-documented. When your team is leaning on a rookie signal-caller, anything can happen week-to-week. Such is life for the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts.
Luck will bounce between brilliant (Week 5 comeback versus Green Bay) and erratic (Week 6), but what's important is that the youngster is getting reps, learning the offense and acclimating to the NFL. Luck may not have the eye-popping stats that Robert Griffin has put up, but longevity is the key here. An NFL career isn't a sprint.
The Colts have a lot of work to do in the offseason, but the first order of business should be to put the young players on the field and let them sink or swim in the meantime. That's the only way the Colts front office will find out if they have the talent around Luck to build with.
Giving credit where credit's due is a big part of these power rankings each week. This week, the New York Jets deserve quite a bit of credit.
Yes, it was only a win against the Indianapolis Colts, but the win-loss column doesn't discriminate—a win is simply a win. And now the Jets have one more, which means they're tied for first place in the AFC East.
The recipe for success in Week 6 won't work against every team—they can't face the Colts defense every week—but at its minimum it's a nice momentum builder heading into Week 7.
For the Tennessee Titans to salvage their season, a Week 6 win was key. Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers could be the turning point in the year—the game we look back on and say, "that's when it clicked for the Titans." Or it could simply be one of a few wins for an overrated team that can't run the ball.
The Titans have talent—our own Josh Zerkle picked them to win the AFC South—but they haven't shown it thus far. The injuries at quarterback and wide receiver have been a major issue, but the lack of an edge pass rush is the biggest factor. They were able to pressure Ben Roethlisberger, but the Steelers have one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
To make their Week 6 win a turning point, the Titans need more 91-yard games from Chris Johnson and more high-pressure performances from Kamerion Wimbley.
It's unlikely that the New Orleans Saints were happy to have their bye week immediately following their first win of the season, but now the Saints must face 11 straight weeks without a break.
The season isn't over in New Orleans, but the team has to play even better than they did in their Week 5 win over the San Diego Chargers if they hope to turn things around. A 1-4 record doesn't guarantee anything, but three more losses over the next 11 games will make the playoffs damn-near impossible.
The pressure is on, but don't be surprised if the Saints find the momentum to make a run toward an NFC wild-card berth.
Thanks to the 1-5 Kansas City Chiefs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to end their three-game losing streak. With the New Orleans Saints up next on the schedule, their current streak is unlikely to reach two.
The simple fact in Tampa is that quarterback Josh Freeman isn't getting the job done. They have talent at running back (and in Week 6 they ran the ball well), but Freeman is holding this team back as much as anyone. To make up for his deficiencies, Greg Schiano will need to lean on his running backs and his defense—but he should be used to that after so many years at Rutgers.
In a tough division, things will get worse for Tampa before they get better. Their quarterback play has to improve.
A Week 6 bye gave the Carolina Panthers a break from their current three-game losing streak, and hopefully it will give the coaching staff and players time to figure out what's going wrong.
This isn't a team completely devoid of talent. The offense is loaded in the backfield, wide receiver Steve Smith is still a threat, and tight end Greg Olsen is a red-zone nightmare. All that on-paper talent has yet to add up on the field though, and the Panthers one win this season serves as a stark reminder that there is a reason this team has drafted in the top 10 in three of the last four NFL drafts.
It will be up to the coaches to energize the team, and a big part of that means unleashing Cam Newton to do what he does best—improvise and make plays with his feet.
Week 6 should be looked back on as the time when the San Diego Chargers' owners finally realized that A.J. Smith and Norv Turner aren't getting the job done. And that something isn't right with Philip Rivers since mid-way through the 2011 season.
The largest comeback in Monday Night Football history doesn't just happen because one team got lucky. Rivers threw three second half interceptions (four total) as the team completely melted down. In what has become a signature of Norv Turner coached teams, the Chargers jumped to an early lead and put on their cruise control, only realizing too late that they were fading.
Putting any faith in this team down the stretch would be foolish. Until the Chargers have a new head coach, no one can trust this team.
Why the big drop for the Pittsburgh Steelers? A few reasons.
1. I should have known better than to rank the Steelers so high last week. Putting them at No. 7 was based on paper talent and a hunch that they'd get hot and start winning. Oops.
2. I picked the Steelers to go 8-8 and miss the playoffs before the year, and a wiser man would have remembered that last week. Consider this a much-needed adjustment.
The Steelers are banged up on the offensive line, old and slow on defense, and have too little depth to be considered a viable contender over the next 11 weeks. Sorry, Steeler fan, the playoffs aren't in your immediate future.
If you haven't learned this by now, a tip: Never trust the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys are one of the most frustrating teams to rank or analyze each year, and 2012 is no different. With enough talent on the depth chart to make a postseason run, you would think the Cowboys could make a push toward a 10-win season. But the inconsistency is adding up.
The reaction is to always blame Tony Romo, but the quarterback wasn't the problem versus Baltimore—the defense was. This Cowboys team looks a lot like the 2010 version that ended the year at 6-10.
At least you can't solely blame Michael Vick for this week's poor play. Well, at least not all of it.
The Philadelphia Eagles are so close to being an elite team, but inconsistency is crippling their season. And, during Andy Reid's tenure, that should sound very familiar for Eagles fans.
The Week 6 loss should be put on the backs of the defense for their poor play in the fourth quarter, but the offense wasn't flawless either. And that's how it goes for Philadelphia—when the offense is good, the defense gets complacent, and vice versa.
At 3-3 the Eagles are still very much alive in the NFC playoff picture, but the OT loss to Detroit has to serve as a wake-up call for the entire team.
The Buffalo Bills get a win, and a slight move up, but it's not all good news for Chan Gailey's team this week.
It was amazing to see how good the Arizona Cardinals offensive line made the Bills pass rush look. A unit that was largely invisible all season came alive against the Cardinals' front five, but it's worth noting that the Cardinals were a missed field goal and an injured quarterback away from winning this game.
The Bills look poised to finish 7-9 or 8-8—unfortunately, just good enough to knock them out of the sweepstakes for an elite quarterback prospect in the 2013 NFL draft.
All is not well for the Detroit Lions, even in the wake of a big win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Where do we begin?
The offense was supposed to be the strength of this team, but quarterback Matthew Stafford is content to throw the ball to Calvin Johnson no matter the circumstances. With no run game to speak of, average pass protection and no secondary targets, Stafford's penchant to force the ball to Johnson is resulting in big yards for Johnson, big interceptions for the opposition, and just one touchdown connection from the pair this season.
For Detroit to turn the corner and build on their win, Stafford has to get better protection, stop throwing off his back foot, and try to hook up with a receiver not named "Calvin Johnson."
My preseason pick for AFC North champions took a hit this week, but the Cincinnati Bengals are still in this thing. At least that's what I'm telling myself.
The Bengals have so much going for them, but it's evident that their lack of a run game is really killing the offense. Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green has become so preordained that defenses don't respect or fear the threat of the rush. They also don't fear the other wide receivers in the Bengals offense.
To get the team back on track, Jay Gruden needs to find ways to open up the offense. One quick remedy would be to get Andrew Hawkins more involved by moving him around pre-snap. Just the threat of Hawkins' speed would cause defenses to pause, and that might be enough for Dalton and Green to go over the top for six.
Break up the Miami Dolphins!
A 3-3 record may not be much to run through the streets naked about for most fans, but a 3-3 record means the Dolphins are tied for first place in the AFC East. For a team that so many (including me) wrote off before the season, this has to feel pretty amazing for those die-hard Fins fans.
Joe Philbin has this team playing very well, and much of that credit goes to Ryan Tannehill for beating the odds and performing above his head in his first six weeks of NFL duty. Tannehill continues to develop much faster than previously expected.
The defense has been much better than expected, too. Cameron Wake is starting to get into a rhythm at defensive end, and against the subpar tackles in the East, that could be the difference between a win or loss once within the division.
I never thought a team would actually miss Kevin Kolb, but that happened to the Arizona Cardinals in their most recent loss.
The Cardinals were a field goal away from the win, but the loss of Kolb with two minutes to go in regulation ultimately cost Arizona the game versus Buffalo. It's easy to say that Kolb wouldn't have thrown the game-ending interception that John Skelton did in overtime, and it's also probably true.
At 4-2 the Cardinals are still tied for first place in the NFC West, but with two straight losses, a team that started the season so hot is now plummeting back to earth almost as fast as the Red Bull stratosphere jumper did.
Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams are sitting just one game back in the NFC West, and based on their first six games, you can tell this team will be fighting until the last whistle blows on Week 17.
Fisher has the Rams playing better than anyone could have expected, and once the team fully gels and matures, more wins will come. The Rams have remained competitive with Wayne Hunter and Barry Richardson starting at offensive tackle, which is all you need to know about how great a job Fisher has done coaching this team.
The Rams are unlikely to win the needed games to make the playoffs, but they won't be a team anyone wants to play over the remainder of the season. Keep an eye on St. Louis—not just this year but looking ahead to 2013.
Even when they lose, the Minnesota Vikings look like the real deal.
At 4-2, Minnesota would be a wild-card team if the playoffs started after this week, but the Green Bay Packers are lurking, waiting for the Vikings to slip up. Minny can't afford another loss like it suffered in Week 6.
The Vikings unfortunately ran into Robert Griffin and the Redskins. Or, more accurately, they couldn't catch RG3 and the Redskins. The Vikings looked like the better team for most of this game—at least until the fourth quarter started and Griffin took over.
Capitalizing on their opponents' mistakes and limiting their own turnovers will be the key for the Vikings' next 11 games. The playoffs are a reality, if so.
With 35 unanswered points in the second half, the Denver Broncos erased a 24-0 deficit and firmly planted themselves atop the AFC West after six weeks. If anyone was waiting to write the "Peyton Manning is Back" article, go ahead and pen it.
Manning and the Broncos struggled in the first half, but the team made excellent adjustments in the second half. Manning was brilliant, but the team also capitalized on four interceptions by Philip Rivers (three in the second half) and road the Chargers' mistakes to a classic comeback.
Much like the New York Giants, the Broncos are a team that no one wants to play when the game matters most.
The Washington Redskins aren't the 10th-most most talented team in the NFL. They don't even have a record that would clear them of Arizona or Minnesota in the playoff picture.
What they do have is a quarterback who can take over games. They have a young offense that can and will score in bunches. They have a defense that can rush the passer and create turnovers. Based on record, the Redskins aren't a top-10 team, but based on how they looked in Week 6, they definitely are.
The rest of the season is likely to be full of the ups-and-downs of a rookie quarterback, but fans in Washington can enjoy the season knowing they have one of the bright young stars in the NFL at the most important position in the game.
The New England Patriots have lost three games—as many as they lost in the entire 2011 regular season. And they've lost those three games by a total of four points.
The Patriots are still a top-tier team, but their inability to close out contests lately has been concerning. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick used to live for the last-minute drive, but the team has struggled to pull off the incredible wins they've became known for over the past season-and-a-half.
You can blame the offensive line, and they have struggled in pass protection. You can and should blame the defense if it makes you feel better. The season hangs in the balance, and the Patriots need to respond with another 52-28-style beatdown against the New York Jets in Week 7 to regain their momentum.
Where to rank the Seattle Seahawks was a bit of a dilemma. Here's a team that's beat the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. They've lost just twice, both on the road and by a total of 10 points. They're competitive with a 4-2 record, tied for best in the NFC West. The Seahawks just might be for real.
With the NFL's top-rated defense, Seattle has the recipe to win a lot of ball games. They are such a threat to disrupt and disable the opposition's ability to score that their own offense doesn't have to be on fire each week to win. Unlike some teams, however, the Seahawks offense can have an off week and still win.
Whether you're a fan or not, Pete Carroll is building (or has built) a winner in Seattle. With a dominant defense, a powerful run game and an exciting young quarterback in place, the Seahawks are looking at a playoff berth.
Throw out the Week 7 standings, the Green Bay Packers are one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL. Period.
When Aaron Rodgers has time to operate, few teams can move the ball as well as the Packers. When the pass rush is working, few defenses can frustrate a quarterback like the Packers can. The first six weeks of the season have been bumpy, but the next 11 weeks will be proof that this is still one of the league's best teams.
The key for Green Bay is to find their tempo early in the game and never let up. They need to use the frustration from the debacle in Seattle and their last-minute loss to Indianapolis as fuel to pissed off, hard-hitting play. If they can do that, a return to the playoffs is imminent.
Coming off the bye week, Week 7 will give the Chicago Bears another chance to prove to the football world that they're for real. Somehow their 4-1 record hasn't done that yet.
In a year where 3-3 is good enough to lead your division, the Bears have been one of the more consistent teams in the league. The 2012 season will be defined by which teams can stay healthy and win in the second half of the year. And looking at the league right now, the way the Bears can run the ball and play defense puts them ahead of most of the competition.
You don't have to trust in Jay Cutler every week to believe in the Bears, just be aware that their ability to create turnovers on defense and Matt Forte's running ability are good enough to carry this team far once the weather gets frigid.
It may not seem right that the Baltimore Ravens didn't move up after beating Dallas, but it all depends on how you look at it. Yes, the Ravens won, but they barely pulled off the victory and likely lost one of their best players in doing so.
The Ravens could make a case for the AFC's best team, but the injuries on defense are adding up. With Terrell Suggs and now Lardarius Webb out, Baltimore is down two of their best players. Ray Lewis doesn't look at all like himself this year, and that alone is causing the Baltimore run defense to struggle.
Still, once the playoffs arrive, it will be tough to bet against the Ravens. Their talent, leadership and style of play are great in a win-or-go-home setting.
So much for a revenge game. The San Francisco 49ers' Week 6 loss to the New York Giants was all too familiar to those who saw the team taken apart by the Vikings in Week 3. Now it's back to the drawing board to see how the Giants were able to dominate the once unbeatable Niners defense.
In both losses the 49ers have struggled with turnovers, which forced them to abandon their game plan of heavy run and two tight end sets. Once the San Francisco offense becomes pass happy, things fall apart. This isn't a team built to play from behind, not with Alex Smith at quarterback.
We'll find out soon enough if the 49ers' loss was a fluke or proof that the team we called the "most complete team in the NFL" isn't quite as tough as we all thought. One thing is for sure: Jim Harbaugh's team needs to get a win this week to stay ahead in the NFC West. Both Seattle and Arizona are currently tied with the 49ers at 4-2.
The New York Giants thoroughly and completely dominated San Francisco. For that they see a nice move up in the power rankings.
It wasn't just the defense, or even Eli Manning. Instead the Giants were prepared for what San Francisco wanted to do on offense, and they made Alex Smith pay for it with pressure and turnovers. San Francisco was never able to establish the run or set the tempo after the first quarter, instead focusing on a comeback attempt.
It's been said before, but if the Giants can play like this consistently, they'll win another Super Bowl. The struggle is getting the team motivated to play with as much fire every week.
Now that the Houston Texans have lost a game, how will they respond?
The loss of Brian Cushing was obviously felt versus Green Bay, and even Week 5, but how will his absence play out for the rest of the season? The Texans looked like a different team Sunday night, and while some of that credit goes to the Packers' play, it's concerning that the defense was picked apart so thoroughly.
The good news is that not many are of Aaron Rodgers' caliber, and in a division that's by far the worst in the league right now, Houston will have no trouble cruising to an AFC South title and at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Once in the playoffs, the Texans will be a very tough team to beat. The key will be how well they play in Week 7 versus Baltimore.
The NFL's only undefeated team may not always win pretty, but they find a way to get the job done. At some point, what the Atlanta Falcons are doing goes beyond luck and starts to look a lot like talent.
We've known for years that the Falcons had the players to make a Super Bowl run, but Mike Smith's club is playing their best ball this year. Even when Matt Ryan has a three-interception day, the defense is able to bail the offense out and secure the win.
Over the course of a season, great teams are defined by how they win the ugly games. The Falcons are proving they can win in a blowout or when all hope looks lost. That experience will come in handy once the playoffs come around.
As of Week 7, the Atlanta Falcons are the favorites to win the Super Bowl.