NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Highlighting Teams Making the Biggest Leaps

Old AccountSenior Writer IOctober 22, 2012

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Highlighting Teams Making the Biggest Leaps

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    The NFL continues to show how strong the parity in the league has become after a wild first half of the season.

    On Sunday, the Houston Texans had an opportunity to make a statement that they are the team to bear in the AFC.

    The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants cemented big victories this week and still remain in the hunt for the best record in the NFC.

    How does every team look after week seven? Here is a Monday edition of NFL Power Rankings on BleacherReport.

32. Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns have the worst record in the NFL through seven weeks, a sign that this franchise is bound to go in a new direction under Jimmy Haslam.

    Brandon Weeden continues his inconsistent play, and isn't doing a good showcase to the team's new owner that he can be the franchise quarterback at his age in his rookie year.

    Though, his receivers haven't helped him in anyway, either. Josh Gordon continues his slow development and came up small when the Browns needed him most against the Indianapolis Colts. Greg Little has also never emerged as the number one threat that the Browns envisioned a few years ago.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    With their disappointing 1-5 start to the season, it's becoming more evident that Blaine Gabbert isn't the answer for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    The former first round pick continues to make too many poor decisions on a consistent basis, putting management in a much tougher decision on how to move forward.

    To sum up the situation of the Jaguars, it's easy to tell this team is dealing with bad teams when the focus is on whether or not this franchise will move to Los Angeles in the near future.

30. Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Kansas City Chiefs were the "paper champions" of the AFC West, as the expectations were set high for the entire organization.

    However, a 1-5 start has led to questions about the future of Scott Pioli, and who will become the next quarterback for this AFC West doormat.

    Matt Cassel continues to prove that he was nothing more than a product of the Patriots system and cannot be a successful quarterback in this league.

    On the bright side, at least Chiefs fans can root for Jamaal Charles, who is having a stellar season despite the lack of production from the rest of his teammates.

29. Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers have greatly disappointed in Ron Rivera's second year as head coach. Through six games, the offense continued to struggle as Cam Newton is undergoing a major sophomore slump.

    It's also fair to question why the Panthers are becoming a pass first offense with Newton instead of relying on the running backs who they gave expensive contracts to during the last few offseasons.

    Although the defense managed to hold the Cowboys to 19 points on Sunday, the unit as a whole has struggled to stop many opponents on a consistent basis.

    Can Rivera survive his second season as head coach if the Panthers manage to suffer another major losing season?

28. Oakland Raiders

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    Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders edged out the Jacksonville Jaguars for only their 2nd win of the season.

    However, their recent win came over a Jaguars team that has only won a single game in 2012.

    The problems for the Raiders extend to both sides of the football. Offensively, the Raiders lack consistent play from Palmer and their young wide receivers.

    While Palmer has appeared to have past his prime, his receivers have not provided much help on a consistent basis against opposing secondaries.

    The defense has continued to struggle in every facet of the game, as mental mistakes continue to hurt this team under rookie head coach Dennis Allen.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have fallen to 2-4 on the year under Greg Schiano. Once again, the defense continued to struggle against an effective passing attack. This time, it was the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees who took advantage of a defense that is relying on plenty of younger guys to step up.

    As for Tampa Bay's offense, Josh Freeman hasn't proved that he can be the franchise quarterback moving forward. His inconsistent play as a starter is a concern for the Buccaneers, who aren't going to be playoff bound despite their high priced acquisitions in the offseason.

26. Tennessee Titans

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    The Tennessee Titans managed to record its third victory of the season in large part due to the emergence of Chris Johnson.

    Johnson rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills defense, which has proven to be is most dominant performance of the season.

    Matt Hasselbeck continues playing efficient football the past two weeks, while managing to take chances when needed in order to put points on the board.

    With two straight wins against the Bills and Steelers, Mike Munchak's team is showing positive signs as his young team continues to grow.

25. Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions face a critical game against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night. A loss would likely put this NFC North juggernaut in the cellar of the division for the rest of the season.

    Matthew Stafford has not proven to be the same effective quarterback from a year ago. This has occurred due to defenses providing extra coverage on Calvin Johnson and forcing the other receivers to challenge them down the field.

    Their defense has continued to take a major step backward. Ndamukong Suh is proving that he is one of the more overrated players in football with his lack of urgency on each play, and has been unable to anchor a struggling defensive front that is supposed to be the building block of this entire defense.

24. New Orleans Saints

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    The New Orleans Saints have managed to win two straight games after their horrific start in large part due to the leadership of Drew Brees.

    Brees has regained his elite form the past two games by taking advantage of two week defenses in San Diego and Tampa Bay.

    Despite the quality performances from their All-Pro quarterback, the Saints continue to struggle greatly on defense under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

    With match ups against Denver, Philadelphia and Atlanta on the horizon, these next three weeks will determine if the Saints can make a run at the postseason despite their tough start in 2012.

23. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts have been one of the more surprising teams in the league thus far. Despite inconsistent play from Andrew Luck, the Colts have managed to win three games, which includes a victory over the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago.

    Luck has begun adjusting to the lack of offensive talent around him by making more plays running the football and keeping defenses on their heels.

    Despite the absence of Chuck Pagano and multiple veteran starters, the defense has elevated its play in recent weeks.

22. Buffalo Bills

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    Having entered the season with high expectations, the Buffalo Bills has been the most disappointing team through the first seven weeks of the season.

    Despite signing Mario Williams in the offseason, the Bills continue to be very vulnerable on defense, which continued on Sunday with their 35-34 loss to the Titans.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown the capability of putting up quality numbers against average defenses, but his performances over the past year is not what the Bills had in mind when giving him an extension.

    With Sunday's loss, the Bills fall to last place in the AFC East and appear to be in line for another losing season in Buffalo.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals continue to show what the average NFL fan already knows. This team hasn't shown the capability to beat a playoff caliber team in prime time, as their quarterback comes up small once again with a big opportunity on the table.

    AJ Green was not effective in this game despite catching a touchdown against a banged up Steelers secondary. This has become an occurring theme because defenses are taking advantage of a Bengals offense that lacks talented players to compliment their star receiver.

    With the loss on Sunday night, the Bengals couldn't capitalize on an opportunity to move one game closer to the Baltimore Ravens for the division lead.

20. San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers were fortunate to have entered the bye week after their collapse against the Denver Broncos.

    Philip Rivers continues to show his inability to win a big game, as he couldn't capitalize on the opportunity to lead his team to a win in potentially the most important game of their season.

    Their defense was also a victim to Peyton Manning and showed no signs of slowing down the Broncos quarterback in the second half.

    What has Norv Turner done to deserve his current job for this long?

19. New York Jets

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    Despite losing both Darelle Revis and Santonio Holmes for the season, the New York Jets have continued to play hard for Rex Ryan and keep themselves in playoff contention.

    It was unfortunate for the Jets to suffer a devastating loss against the New England Patriots in overtime after taking the lead with under two minutes left in the game.

    The Jets defense may be an above average unit, but it cannot compare to the defenses the last few seasons.

    Mark Sanchez is doing his best with the lack of receivers around him, but he currently isn't in a position to carry this offense like franchise quarterbacks do.

18. St. Louis Rams

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    The St. Louis Rams have made drastic improvements during Jeff Fisher's first year as head coach.

    Although a last place finish seems likely, the Rams are a battled tested bunch who has managed to win two games against NFC West opponents this year.

    Fisher has brought his aggressive approach to St. Louis, and has made a big impact on the Rams defense. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are forming a dynamic tandem on the defensive front, while Cortland Finnegan leads a much improved Rams secondary.

    The biggest concern moving forward is the lack of protection and talent around Sam Bradford to help him improve his development as a quarterback in this league.

17. Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins have put themselves in a position to become a surprise team in a down year for the AFC. Ryan Tannehill has been overly impressive as a quarterback despite the lack of offensive help around him.

    Meanwhile, the defense has stepped up its performances in the last few weeks despite the departures of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and corner back Vontae Davis.

    With a match up with the New York Jets awaiting them in week five, the Dolphins have an opportunity to become the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC East.

16. Washington Redskins

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    Robert Griffin III put the Washington Redskins in a great position to upset the New York Giants with a game winning drive in the final minutes.

    However, the hero proved to be Eli Manning, who countered the rookie quarterbacks drive with a 75 yard pass to Victor Cruz that gave the Giants the lead for good.

    This team has been competitive in all of its game due to the play of Griffin, who has displayed great awareness in the pocket and can make options by throwing or running.

    The defense has been unable to stop explosive passing games all season, and couldn't make the big stop against Manning when this team needed it most.

15. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles decided to begin making changes after its disappointing start by firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and replacing him with Todd Bowles.

    It's questionable for Andy Reid to put the blame on the defense when his starting quarterback has prevented this team from becoming a challenger to the best in the NFC.

    Mike Vick will have an opportunity to win a statement game against the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Although, he is running out of chances to secure his job as a quarterback moving forward and could be in line to lose his job to Nick Foles.

14. Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys continue to show a lack of consistency, and avoided the upset against the Carolina Panthers.

    After a quality performance in defeat last week against the Ravens, Tony Romo didn't provide a similar outing against one of the worst defenses in the league.

    Romo was limited to 227 yards and one touchdown, which eventually kept this game much closer than anticipated.

    Clearly, Dallas isn't playing football that will translate to even a playoff birth in the competitive NFC.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers earned a hard fought divisional victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to remain only one game out of a wide open AFC North division.

    Ben Roethlisberger continues to prove that he is one of the league's most elite quarterbacks by carrying his team to a huge road victory midway through the season.

    Although the defense isn't the same elite unit compared to season's best, they managed to limit AJ Green to only one catch while forcing Andy Dalton to continue making costly mistakes in primetime games.

12. Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals are quietly beginning to fade into a sub .500 team after suffering its third straight loss on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

    Over the last three games, opposing teams have used a similar formula to defeating the NFC West foe. Arizona's inability to stop the run has led to plenty of opportunities for quarterbacks to take chances on the young secondary.

    It's also a negative sign that the Cardinals are working out Vince Young this week to potentially become the starting quarterback in the future.

    Can the Cardinals snap their three game skid next week? A trip to San Francisco awaits them.

11. Seattle Seahawks

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    In a hard fought battle for the lead in the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks couldn't generate enough offense to pull off the big road win on Thursday.

    Russell Wilson faced his toughest test of the season against arguably the leagues best defense. With only 120 yards passing and one interception, the rookie quarterback didn't receive much help from the talent around him.

    Moving forward, the lack of offensive production will become an issue for the Seahawks. Can Sidney Rice and Braylon Edwards provide enough in the passing game for Seattle to challenge the elite teams in the NFC?

10. Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos entered their week seven bye after Peyton Manning's best performance this season.

    Manning continued spreading the football around to Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Stokley while showing much improvement in his deep ball against the Chargers secondary.

    Denver's defense stepped up in the second half by capitalizing on Philip Rivers' mistakes and ultimately putting Manning in a great position late in this game.

    With the lack of quality teams in the AFC, the Broncos are on the right path towards becoming a legitimate threat to the Texans in the postseason.

9. Baltimore Ravens

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    The bye week couldn't come soon enough for the Baltimore Ravens after their embarrassing performance on Sunday against the Houston Texans.

    It was evident that the losses of Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis are having an impact on this entire defense. While they improved slightly against defending the run, the secondary struggled mightily with Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith as the corner backs.

    Joe Flacco had arguably his worst performance as an NFL quarterback, as his two interceptions highlighted a dreadful performance by an offense that was dominated in all phases.

    Granted, the odds were stacked against the AFC North leaders; but that doesn't excuse the lack of effort displayed by the Ravens at the season's halfway point.

8. New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots were fortunate to avoid losing its fourth game of the season and the division lead against the New York Jets on Sunday.

    Tom Brady rose to the occasion when his team needed him most, leading the Patriots on their final drive to tie the game in regulation along with the eventual game winning drive.

    However, the lack of killer instinct from the Patriots continues to be a concern. The secondary had trouble covering the average group of receivers that the Jets brought to the table.

    For now, they are the second best team in the weak AFC. However, they aren't on the same level as the Texans in any shape or form.

7. Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears are looking to keep pace in the tough NFC North as they prepare to face off against divisional foe in the Detroit Lions.

    It's difficult to evaluate this team due to their inconsistency from week to week. The defense usually comes prepared to complete its job, but Jay Cutler cannot be counted on a weekly basis.

    His inability to be efficient with the football and avoid costly turnovers is a huge problem for Chicago. He needs to prove that he can be consistent against the league's elite and allow the Bears to become a contender in the NFC.

6. Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings deserve credit for their surprising 5-2 start to the 2012 season. This team is finding success due to well rounded performances from all phases of the game.

    Adrian Peterson has clearly returned to form as the best running back in football, while Percy Harvin has stayed healthy enough to be a legitimate downfield threat for Christian Ponder. 

    Though, the biggest surprise has been the emergence of the defense. Jared Allen continues to anchor this quality defensive front, and rookie Harrison Smith has brought energy to a secondary that has improved drastically from a year ago.

    They will eventually face the challenge from more playoff caliber teams, but the Vikings are as big of a playoff contender as any team in the NFC right now.

5. San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers faced a difficult challenge of playing two games in a span of five days. After their disappointing performance against the Giants a week ago, the 49ers had to prepare for the Seattle Seahawks with the division lead on the line.

    As expected, the defense returned to its dominant form and held Russell Wilson to 120 yards passing on the day.

    The biggest concern moving forward is the offense as a whole, but specifically Alex Smith. Despite gaining the win on Thursday, Smith played in a way that resembled his miserable days as quarterback during the Mike Singletary era.

    Ultimately, the 49ers need Smith to be more efficient on a weekly basis if the 49ers want to survive the competitive NFC.

4. New York Giants

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    Although the New York Giants have been known as late season bloomers in the past, the defending Super Bowl champions continue to keep the same focus they had during last week's win over the 49ers.

    They did face a tough battle against Robert Griffin and the Washington Redskins, who have found plenty of success against the Giants the last few seasons.

    The defense couldn't help contain late in the fourth quarter, as their secondary is still a concern moving forward.

    However, Eli Manning could be argued as the best quarterback in football at this moment. There aren't many quarterbacks who have boast the same success that Manning has late in games.

3. Houston Texans

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    After last week's disastrous loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Houston Texans imposed their will on the Baltimore Ravens.

    Matt Schaub led the Texans offense to 36 points on the day against a Ravens defense that struggled mightily without Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis.

    Meanwhile, Houston's front seven had their way with Baltimore's offensive line and limited Joe Flacco's ability to be effective on Sunday.

    There is no debate that Houston is the clear favorite to win the AFC this year.

2. Green Bay Packers

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    It's unbelievable what a difference of two weeks makes for the Green Bay Packers. Since their disappointing loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the overall effort from this team puts them right back in the conversation for the NFL's best.

    Aaron Rodgers is firing on all cylinders at the right time and is utilizing all of the talent he has at his disposal. 

    However, the offensive line has played stellar the past two weeks despite its major question early on in the season. After containing Houston's dominant pass rush last week, they continued their dominance against a Rams defensive front that has shined under Jeff Fisher's leadership.

1. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons had the bye week coming at the right time, as they remain the only undefeated team in the NFL through seven weeks.

    Despite his struggles against the Oakland Raiders, Matt Ryan has performed at an extremely high level under Dirk Koetter's uptempo offense.

    Although the talented receivers receive plenty of the praise for the Falcons, credit must be given to an offensive line that is arguably the best unit in the league right now. Ryan is able to run the no-huddle offense effectively due to the great pass protection he is receiving up front.

    The biggest question moving forward is can the Falcons defense continue to improve under Mike Nolan and avoid being the reason for another early playoff exit this postseason.