NFL Power Rankings: Teams That Vaulted into the Playoff Picture in Week Six

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIOctober 15, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 14:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on October 14, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Only one team remains undefeated as Week 6 winds to a close. In this version of the NFL power rankings, the parity of the league is prominent, as several teams vaulted into the playoff picture with impressive wins—some prettier than others.

It looks as though 2012 may be the most competitive season in recent memory, so let's see which teams were the latest to enter the postseason conversation.

1. Atlanta Falcons

Somehow, they avoided an upset against the Oakland Raiders. At one point, quarterback Matt Ryan's only three incomplete passes came on interceptions. Matt Bryant still drove home a 55-yard field goal with one second left to seal the victory in the Georgia Dome. 6-0 nets the Falcons the No. 1 slot.

2. Houston Texans

Despite the letdown on Sunday night, Gary Kubiak's bunch is still the most complete team in football. They simply ran into a buzz saw in the Packers, who had underachieved all season and finally put together their best game.

3. Chicago Bears

It didn't even require playing a game for the Bears to rise to the cream of the NFL crop. Jay Cutler is still a liability at quarterback, but the rate Chicago's defense score touchdowns, Cutler will not need to force the action.

4. New York Giants

Eli Manning didn't have one of his better games in Week 6, but he didn't have to. The running game has finally begun to click for the G-Men, as Ahmad Bradshaw turned in his second consecutive great game. The defense forced Alex Smith into three interceptions, and Jim Harbaugh took his most lopsided loss as an NFL head coach.

5. San Francisco 49ers

Sunday marked the first time the Niners got truly smacked in the Jim Harbaugh era. Still, the Niners are tied atop the NFC West despite the 26-3 defeat. They will be fired up for Seattle at home on a short week Thursday night.

6. Baltimore Ravens

It may be surprising to see the Ravens this low. But losing Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis for the season will prove to be adversity that even this resilient 2012 team can't overcome.

7. Green Bay Packers

Sitting at 2-3—which should have been 3-2, of course—no one knew what to make of the Packers, who had clearly not been playing to their abilities across the board. That all changed with a huge statement game against the Houston Texans.

Aaron Rodgers was back to his usual dominant self,  throwing for well over 300 yards and six touchdown passes. Dom Capers' 3-4 defense finally locked down an opponent, quieting Texans QB Matt Schaub and limiting Arian Foster to just 29 yards on 17 carries.

The running game still remains a bit of a concern, although they were facing a stout defense on Sunday night.

The Pack have been inconsistent all season, but they showed what they are capable of in Week 6. If that continues, they have a great chance to roar back and successfully defend their NFC North title.

The only problem is, it might be the best division in football.

8. Minnesota Vikings

Unlike the surprising 4-2 Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings look to actually have a sustainable offense to back up their much improved defense. They mustered a stellar comeback against the Redskins, but Robert Griffin III's long TD run was their undoing.

9. Seattle Seahawks

Here is the team that defines what the hook of these rankings are all about. Their No. 1 defense had to match up with the New England Patriots' No. 1 offense, and they held their own.

Tom Brady threw for nearly 400 yards on the day, but needed 55 passes to do it. His two touchdowns were offset by two picks, including one in the Seahawks' endzone that changed the complexion of the game.

Most importantly for Seattle, rookie QB Russell Wilson finally justified Pete Carroll's decision to start him, because he outplayed one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. His 46-yard bomb to Sidney Rice with 1:18 left capped off a phenomenal day, where Wilson completed 16-of-27 passes for 293 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Wilson's typically shoddy protection was stellar for most of the day. Offensive coordinator Darell Bevell finally opened up the game plan, putting the ball in Wilson's hands.

That was in stark contrast to the conservatism that arguably cost the team its two losses—and what should been their third if not for a certain infamous call.

A tough trip to San Francisco looms, but with such a phenomenal defense and a newly balanced offensive attack, the Seahawks can hang with anyone in the league.

10. New England Patriots

They are in a total logjam in the AFC East, as all four teams sport the same 3-3 record. In order for this team to capture the division crown, the offense must get back on track and the defense must play better.

11. Detroit Lions

It doesn't seem to matter how awful Matthew Stafford looks to start a game. The Lions' quarterback seems to have a knack for rallying his team to victory. Down 10 points in Philadelphia with just over five minutes left, Stafford somehow did it again forcing overtime and keying Detroit's stunning 26-23 overtime victory.

Early losses to Minnesota and Tennessee had the Lions more or less playing for their season in Week 6, and they responded in a big way. Suddenly, Stafford and Co. sit at 2-3 and may get Jahvid Best back in the backfield for a crucial showdown with the Chicago Bears.

Best has suffered multiple concussions in his short career, but is a definite x-factor if he's able to return. That's especially true because Detroit showed that they could run the ball on a stellar defense, averaging nearly five yards per carry against the Eagles.

Also notable from Sunday's crucial win was the improved play of the defense. Other than the 70-yard touchdown grab by Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, they played much better than in recent weeks.

The biggest red flag was the 16 penalties committed by Detroit, who have continued to have a problem with that under Jim Schwartz.

It's time to play devil's advocate on this issue.

When they inevitably fix that problem—and it can't get much worse— imagine how good they'll be.

12. San Diego Chargers

In a weak AFC West division, it appears the Chargers are the best team. More will be known about them after their Monday night showdown against Denver.

13. Miami Dolphins

Despite being outgained 462-192 in total offense, the Dolphins found a way to get it done with a 17-14 win. Some of that is credited to three missed St. Louis field goals, but Joe Philbin's team suddenly finds itself tied atop the AFC East—along with the rest of the division—at 3-3.

Ryan Tannehill continues to play efficient football, and the poor game by running back Reggie Bush is a blip rather than a trend.

The Dolphins' No. 1 rush defense was gashed multiple times against the Rams, but they were able to hold when it mattered most. They are still one of the best units in that regard thanks to an active front seven led by Cameron Wake and Karlos Dansby.

It remains to be seen how defenses adjust to Tannehill. But Miami proved it could pull out a win with an offense centered around a short, effective passing game.

14. Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III continues to add to his growing legend of a rookie season. He had his typical stellar, accurate day throwing the ball, but ripped off an electric 76-yard run to clinch the game against Minnesota.

It was a big breakthrough for a team clawing to keep pace in the competitive NFC East. Griffin has immediately established Washington as one of the top offenses in the league. Alongside fellow rookie Albert Morris at running back, they have the most dynamic unit in the NFL aside from the New England Patriots'.

The Skins' secondary has been the team's biggest liability. It held Christian Ponder in check early on, but yielded big yards late when the Vikings were pushing for a comeback.

If Washington can somehow shore up the back end of its defense ever so slightly, they could easily be a playoff team.

Heck, with RGIII calling the shots, it might not even matter. A la the better-record-but-same-concept example of the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

15. Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick continues to orchestrate a high-powered but turnover-prone offense. Another reckless deep shot to DeSean Jackson in the fourth quarter sparked the Detroit Lions' comeback victory, leaving more questions about this enigmatic Eagles team. 

16. Pittsburgh Steelers

Another injury to Troy Polamalu definitely hurts. But as long as Ben Roethlisberger is still breathing, it's hard to count this team out of any contest.

17. Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning has played phenomenally save for one quarter in Atlanta. The rest of the team has to pick up the slack, and the Broncos must find a way to get off to better starts. Manning hasn't been able to save them most of the time despite his best efforts.

18. Cincinnati Bengals

With a blowout win, the Bengals would have established themselves as legitimate contenders in the AFC. They still may be by default, but a rather lopsided loss to the winless Browns indicates otherwise.

19. Dallas Cowboys

What was the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL got shredded for the second week in a row. Somehow this team continues to fall short, and hasn't looked the same since beating the Giants in Week 1.

20. St. Louis Rams

Perhaps Sam Bradford doesn't need his top receiver in Danny Amendola, as he threw for 315 yards on the Dolphins. The problem is, Miami has one of the weakest secondaries in the league. Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein missed three field goals on the day, or else this team would likely be sitting at 4-2.

21. Arizona Cardinals

It's unbelievable how bad Arizona's offensive line is. Facing a struggling, largely over-hyped Bills defensive front, they yielded five sacks. The last one knocked Kevin Kolb out of the game. No matter how good the defense is, they won't win another game with how poorly the offense is blocking.

22. New Orleans Saints

Competing with the Bills and Raiders for the worst defense in football is the Saints. Drew Brees still gives them a chance coming from behind, but New Orleans has had to do that too much. An 0-4 hole is too much to overcome to make the postseason.

23. New York Jets

The defense was finally able to stuff the run against the Colts, and Gang Green pounded the rock for 252 yards on Sunday. If this can continue, the Jets may be in the playoff conversation. However, questions continue to loom about Mark Sanchez under center against better competition.

24. Buffalo Bills

Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't turn it over, and Buffalo ran the ball more than their quarterback threw it. Look what happened: a victory. They should utilize Fitzpatrick's underrated mobility more often. That defense is still a huge question mark.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is one of the hardest teams to read in the league. Josh Freeman and the offense look explosive at times, but horrific at others. Greg Schiano has definitely brought enthusiasm to the Bucs, but both of their victories came against one-win teams.

26. Tennessee Titans

Chalk up that Thursday Night Football victory over Pittsburgh to injuries on the Steelers' defense. Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley were out, and Chris Johnson finally shook loose out of the Tennessee backfield. That defense still needs to prove itself for the 2-4 Titans.

27. Oakland Raiders

They have played surprisingly well at times this season. Oakland would have been much higher with a win in Atlanta, but inconsistency on both sides of the ball continues to plague them in 2012.

28. Indianapolis Colts

What an inspiring victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week 5. Unfortunately, they couldn't keep that momentum going against the Jets. Andrew Luck still has to prove he can win away from home before they rise significantly further.

29. Carolina Panthers

The bye week may have come at just the right time. Cam Newton will be looking to break out of his sophomore slump in Week 7 in a must-win game at home against the Cowboys. That might be too much for their shaky defense to handle. 

30. Cleveland Browns

It's possible that Pat Shurmur could get his young team to buy in and make a second-half push to respectability. The Browns have been competitive in every game this year, and Joe Haden's return at cornerback sparked the defense.

31. Kansas City Chiefs

Whether it's Brady Quinn or Matt Cassel under center, it doesn't look good for this team. They were getting hype for their talented roster in the preseason, even as an AFC West champion. That looks rather silly now. 

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

It looked as though second-year QB Blaine Gabbert might have significantly improved at the start of 2012. That perception has changed. Combine that with a regressed defense, and the Jags find themselves as the worst team in football.


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