NFL Power Rankings: Week 8 Grades and Analysis
Let's welcome Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to a winning record, because still, only three AFC teams are above the .500 mark.
This is how crazy pro football has been in 2012, and we're not even halfway done yet. Flip to the NFC and we see 10 teams without a losing record, only a drop of one before we entered last week.
Now, most definitely does the weekly schedule play a factor is out everything unfolds. Nevertheless, there are few separations between the elite and mediocre teams right now, and November is on the horizon.
So with Week 8 up next, here are power rankings featuring complete grades through the first seven.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5)
Unsurprisingly, the Jacksonville Jaguars sit at the bottom because the offense continues to fail miserably.
Yes, 23 points were scored against the Raiders, but that only tied Jacksonville's season-high. In short, this team can't move the ball in any facet of the game. Even worse, some key injuries happened in Week 7.
Additionally, according to ESPN.com:
The preliminary results of the MRI performed on Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert indicate he suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder.
Include a defense incapable of stopping any opposing offense, and the Jags might as well pack it in.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-5)
If it were not for Jamaal Charles, the Kansas City Chiefs would be 0-6, and it's mostly due to his 91-yard touchdown run against the Saints last month.
Otherwise, K.C. has been in a rough year. Regardless of the quarterback, the passing game has significantly struggled, and regardless of the opponent, the defense has failed to stop anyone, allowing an average of 30.5 points and nearly 350 total yards per game.
The AFC West, at least from the Raiders and Broncos, has gained confidence despite being the only division without a winning record. Still, the Chiefs are 0-1 in divisional games, which means there is time to turn things around.
30. Carolina Panthers (1-5)
The Carolina Panthers are now riding a four-game losing streak, and the schedule isn't getting any easier.
Although the team has tough, close losses to the Buccaneers, Falcons, Seahawks and Cowboys, Carolina has the Bears, Redskins and Broncos on deck.
Cam Newton continues to be in his slump, and a defense giving up roughly 366 total yards per game isn't cutting it.
Now the defense has improved more consistently than Newton and the offense. Therefore, if 2012 remains down this path, a mid-round quarterback in the draft may be a reasonable consideration for future references.
29. Cleveland Browns (1-6)
There is one appealing aspect about this year's Cleveland Browns, and it's that they make every game interesting.
Sure, Cleveland has six losses, but all are by an average of just over seven points. In short, this team plays hard and is displaying the capability to hang with any opponent. The downside, obviously, is that the Browns have six losses and cannot figure out how to win in the clutch.
Well, we also have to consider the team's offensive youth and inexperience compared to the rest of pro football. Dick Jauron's defense is keeping them in games, and Brandon Weeden ranks No. 8 with 1,783 passing yards.
Sooner or later, Cleveland is going to find a way. Until then, the close losses only act as a moral victory.
28. Oakland Raiders (2-4)
With the dramatic victory over the Jaguars on Sunday, you can just feel the Oakland Raiders' confidence grow since that was a game they were expected to win.
The offensive balance is continuing to improve and the defense is finding ways to step up. The pass rush made strides against Jacksonville, and it only helped those in coverage against some explosive Jaguars receivers.
Provided that Carson Palmer keeps playing a safe passing game, and mistakes will come at a minimum. In turn, Darren McFadden can produce more on the ground. And it's quite realistic for Oakland to run off its next six games and be 8-4 when hosting Denver.
Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Baltimore (banged-up), New Orleans, Cincinnati and Cleveland are all winnable games for the Raiders right now. Let's see if they welcome the challenge.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)
It was a tough home loss for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against a division rival.
All four losses are only by a combined 22 points, and this offense is no joke. Josh Freeman is proving his capabilities again of making every NFL throw and playing well in the clutch.
The offense presents impressive balance, and it will improve as 2012 progresses. Unfortunately, Tampa's pass defense and pass rush are the concern. Although there was a pick of Drew Brees, the Bucs failed to record a sack of the Saints signal-caller and gave up 35 points.
Ahead, the schedule eases up a tad, but late November and December are significantly more difficult.
26. Buffalo Bills (3-4)
The Buffalo Bills cannot seem to figures themselves out. One week after getting suplexed by the 49ers, Buffalo won a key road game over the Cardinals.
One week after that, the Bills could not outscore the Titans at home and fall to 3-4. The passing game has yet to find a comfortable rhythm, which is surprising because the rushing attack is among the best in pro football.
So you think play-action would be a strong option when dropping Ryan Fitzpatrick back. Well, part of the offensive problem is a byproduct of the defense. Mario Williams continues to not produce, and the Bills give up 32.4 points per game.
Regardless of how stellar a team's ground game or overall offense may be, inconsistency reigns when the defense can't apply quarterback pressure or force turnovers.
25. New Orleans Saints (2-4)
The New Orleans Saints are on a roll and are looking like a dangerous second half of season team right now.
The 0-4 start certainly wasn't pretty, although losing close calls is the worst-case scenario when looking for any glimmer of hope. Since, the Big East has rolled off two straight, and Drew Brees shows no signs of slowing down.
Plus, if it weren't for him, the Saints would still be winless. That's how good Brees is at tossing the rock. Next up, though, is a gauntlet schedule featuring the Broncos, Eagles, Falcons (twice), Raiders, 49ers and Giants between Weeks 8 and 14.
During this seven-game span, if New Orleans can be sitting at 6-7 or 5-8 thereafter, an outside postseason chance is possible because the NFC is more wide-open than at first glance.
24. Indianapolis Colts (3-3)
For as inconsistent as the Indianapolis Colts have played in 2012, it's not surprising because of Andrew Luck being a rookie.
In addition, the Colts do need to up their game on the ground as well as at stuffing the run. Controlling the trenches has been a concern because Indy averages just 3.7 per rush while allowing 4.8.
And the AFC North won't take kindly to that weakness because the Texans present a strong offensive balance and can dominate against the run. Also, we can't discount the Titans, who currently ride a two-game winning streak and are hosting the Colts in Week 8.
But, Indy does have key wins over Green Bay and Minnesota, so the next step is winning in the AFC. Prior to Cleveland, the Colts were 0-2 in conference play, so Luck's first division road game will be telling.
23. Detroit Lions (2-4)
Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and the rest of the Detroit Lions defense put on a valiant effort against the Bears on Monday.
And although the end result was not in Detroit's favor, this defense really stepped up when put in tough situations. The Lions, however, continue to be a tale of two teams since the offense uncharacteristically is the concern.
Calvin Johnson was locked down in Week 8 and sometimes in single coverage, which was a bold move by Chicago. Nonetheless, not only did it pay off, but the coverage allowed pressure to force Matthew Stafford overthrows and the front seven to stuff the run.
Detroit has a problem with consistent offensive balance, and unless that gets immediately fixed, the 2012 season will end in supreme disappointment.
22. Tennessee Titans (3-4)
Despite the Tennessee Titans sitting at 1-4 when heading into Week 6, there wasn't any evidence of whether this team was terrible or good.
And that was courtesy of a schedule where all four losses came from New England, Houston, San Diego and Minnesota. Well, the Titans then proved they could defeat lesser-established teams in 2012, as we saw against the Lions, Steelers and Bills.
Chris Johnson and the running game appear to finally hitting a rhythm, and the offense overall has impressive synchronization. Now yes, the defense has to figure out a way to slow opponent down. After all, giving up 416 total yards and 34 points per game will cost Tennessee later on.
Still, this team has seen the running game become more reliable, and if that continues, watch out for the Music City in November.
21. New York Jets (3-4)
Don't write off the New York Jets just yet. Mark Sanchez and Co. played a solid game on the road in New England, and Gang Green was in position to win it before overtime.
For one, New York is also 2-1 in the AFC East and still gets to host the Patriots later on. Welcoming the Dolphins in Week 8 before the bye, the Jets can certainly be 3-1 in the division and .500 overall heading into November.
The defense has really stepped up in recent weeks, and Shonn Greene and the ground game are pushing the pace. By no means have the Jets been overly impressive, although their schedule is been a helluva lot more difficult as well.
20. San Diego Chargers (3-3)
The 3-1 start by the San Diego Chargers was rather impressive because they were 2-0 in the AFC West, and the lone loss came from Atlanta, who is still perfect.
Then Weeks 5 and 6 happened and the Bolts dropped two straight, first losing to the then-winless Saints and blowing a 24-0 lead at home on Monday night against the Broncos. To make matters worse for San Diego, that was arguably the easier part of the schedule.
Three of the next four games are on the road, and the entire AFC North is still to come, including at Cleveland this week. From top to bottom, the Chargers' schedule is not extensively difficult, but if Philip Rivers can't get better pocket protection and the defense fails against the pass, it won't matter.
Denver is in the AFC West driver's seat, and the Chargers are looking at Oakland rising quickly.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)
Just like the Chargers, the Cincinnati Bengals began 2012 with a 3-1 record.
Currently the only difference being Cincy's three-game losing streak, which fortunately has a bye week coming right on cue. The Bengals can't stop the run nor can they run the ball to set up Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
This is why Cincinnati took a nosedive against the Steelers on Sunday, and it was proven before that versus Miami and Cleveland. Now 1-3 in the AFC North, the Bengals return in November with the Broncos and Giants before playing at Kansas City.
Another receiver must step up to derive some attention from Green, and even when double-covered, Dalton must give his No. 1 receiver a playmaking opportunity. The man can outjump anyone on the field, so any coverage downfield is seemingly irrelevant.
Here, the question is whether Dalton can lead in the midst of a struggling defense and running game.
18. Miami Dolphins (3-3)
Outside of Reggie Bush, the Miami Dolphins don't present any big-name playmakers. And even then, Bush still must prove his complete back arsenal on a weekly basis.
Factor a rookie quarterback with no elite No. 1 receiver, and the Dolphins are a surprising 3-3. Defensively, there are concern at defending the pass because Miami allows nearly 285 through the air per game.
To that end, this team is also two overtime losses from being 5-1, meaning the Dolphins are literally right on the cusp of breaking through and emerging as a strong playoff contender. And it's because they work the line of scrimmage well on both sides.
As long as the passing offense sees minimal improvement and the defense can force more turnovers—already solid at getting quarterback pressure—we'll see Miami in the postseason hunt.
17. St. Louis Rams (3-4)
After finally getting above the .500 mark, the St. Louis Rams have unfortunately dropped two straight games.
The good news, however, is that both were to solid teams in Miami (away) and the Packers at home. We must keep in mind that St. Louis is also 2-0 in the NFC West, so playing well against tough teams in and out of the division will keep the Rams around in December.
The next five contests are going to be the deal-breaker, though. Hosting the Patriots in Week 8, St. Louis plays both games against the 49ers after the bye with the Jets and Cardinals sandwiched between.
Chris Long, Cortland Finnegan and Jeff Fisher's defense is for real. All that's left is for the offense to pick up the pace because Sam Bradford and Co. average only 315 total yards per game.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)
Let's not get all too hyped up about the Pittsburgh Steelers winning at Cincinnati.
Most definitely was it a needed victory, as it was a divisional road game scheduled after a tough road loss to Tennessee. Pittsburgh, though, is really relying on some game-changing turnovers to find itself in the win column this season.
Include an Andy Dalton flubbed pass that resulted in a pick, along with Michael Vick's case of the fumbles and the Steelers could easily be 1-5. On the bright side, the ground game looks to be getting back on track and the defense is adjusting well.
The next two games will truly test the Steel City, however, because it hosts the explosive Redskins and then plays the Giants on the road.
15. Washington Redskins (3-4)
All four the Washington Redskins' losses are by a combined 21 points. Well, the counter to that is, all three of Washington's wins by a combined 22 points.
So any way you slice it, the Redskins apparently like drama in their games despite a losing record. Robert Griffin III is proving to be the real deal, though. The No. 2 overall pick is living up to expectations, and he performed quite well on the road against the Giants.
Not to mention, but the rookie signal-caller still leads the NFL with a 70.4 completion percentage. If there are any concerns, check out Washington's No. 32 ranked pass defense, and it literally cost the Hogs in Week 7.
Fix the coverage, and we'll see our nation's capital in the NFC playoff picture, because five divisional games still remain.
14. Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
Considering all the miscues regarding a lack of communication, clock management, inconsistent ground game, turnovers and dropped passes, the Dallas Cowboys are still 3-3.
In other words, Big D's 2012 campaign through six games could be much worse right now. And better yet, the Cowboys host the Giants in Week 8. This game will totally change the complexion of Dallas' season because New York is 5-2, but the Cowboys defeated Big Blue in Week 1.
A loss here puts Dallas even further back in the NFC East, and other losses to Chicago and Seattle will come back to bite for a playoff run. The response win over Carolina on the road was imperative, because slipping there would have basically ended Big D's season when it comes to confidence.
Even if a win over New York happens, though, the Cowboys play at Atlanta and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks. Those games are just as, if not more, important than Big Blue in Week 8.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
Remove Michael Vick's temptation of fumbling the football, and the Philadelphia Eagles are at least 5-1 before their bye week.
Instead, this is not the case, and the Eagles face a must-win situation at home against the perfect Falcons on Sunday. Make no mistake about it, this defense possesses arguably the most talent of any team in pro football.
Trent Cole and the front seven can wreck against the run and apply consistent quarterback pressure. The coverage could certainly be better, although it's not hurting Philly, as it allows roughly 330 total yards per game.
Vick just can't continue to turn the ball over. The Eagles passing game will remain unreliable if so, which makes life easier for a defense to isolate LeSean McCoy. We'll learn a lot from Philly in Week 8 because the Falcons aren't the strongest of teams at controlling the line of scrimmage.
12. Arizona Cardinals (4-3)
Yes, the Arizona Cardinals are on a three-game losing streak.
No, there is not any reason to hit the panic button quite yet.
We know the pass protection and running game has to improve: That's a given because it's been an issue for Arizona since last season. From an optimistic perspective, it's simply much better to know what needs fixed as opposed to not having an identity.
And in Arizona, that lies with the receiving corps offensively and the defense. The Cardinals have still not given up more than 21 points in any game this season, so regardless of the yards allowed, Patrick Peterson and Co. lock it down when it matters most.
Sitting 1-1 in the division right now, Arizona's season gets real over the next three games: San Francisco, at Green Bay, at Atlanta (bye in Week 10).
11. Denver Broncos (3-3)
Along the same lines as Michael Vick and the Eagles, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have to eliminate turnovers.
Aside from Manning's dismal Monday night in Atlanta, the legend has sliced up every defense. Unfortunately, fumblitis remains an issue with Demaryius Thomas, occasionally in the running game and the return game.
Defensively, Von Miller is dominating up front again, and the Broncos secondary has lifted play in zone and man schemes. Forcing more turnovers was evident against San Diego, which was huge for a momentum shift.
Laying down the welcome mat to Drew Brees and the Saints in Week 8, Denver must utilize the ground attack and keep NOLA's offense off the field. If not, the Broncos defense is in for an unwanted Halloween treat courtesy of New Orleans averaging almost 30 points per game.
10. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Even when healthy, the Baltimore Ravens defense was performing uncharacteristic against the pass and run.
Brandon Weeden of the Browns thwarted them for 320 yards, and had Greg Little been able to haul in the rock, Cleveland may have upset the Ravens in Baltimore. The following week, Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs racked up 140 on the ground, but the Ravens survived K.C., 9-6.
Playing at the Texans in Week 7, everything hit Baltimore at once. Houston steamrolled the Ravens all over the field, and Baltimore's offense was smashed at the point of attack. Despite a 5-2 record heading into the bye, the Ravens are a vulnerable bunch against stout defenses and rushing offenses.
And the road game in Cleveland after the bye will be revealing, because Baltimore hosts Oakland in Week 10 then plays Pittsburgh twice in a three-week span (Chargers between).
9. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
Carrying the Minnesota Vikings to a 5-2 record is Adrian Peterson, and the standout ball-carrier has played an obvious role in Christian Ponder's 2012 impact.
Because of Peterson's triumphant return, it's clear the Vikings feel more confident when taking the field, and every defense loves to be indirectly assisted by a strong ground game. And Minnesota presents a strong defense as Jared Allen continues his sack-mastering.
Elsewhere, the secondary has forced some impressive turnovers, and the character of the Purple People Eaters was revealed in Week 7. Coming off a tough road loss to Washington, Minnesota hosted the Cardinals on Sunday, who were desperate for a win.
Call it a trap game, but the Vikings responded with a win and are capable of sitting at 8-2 when the Week 11 bye occurs.
8. New England Patriots (4-3)
Similar to the Vikings, the New England Patriots need a response victory on Sunday to get back on track.
It was arguably a tougher challenge for Tom Brady and the Pats, though, because they were hosting a division opponent. The Jets came in confident after having pummeled the Colts in Week 6.
As expected, New England faced adversity, and Brady stared it down to ultimately get the overtime win. The three losses have all come by a combined four points, so the Pats aren't too far off from being perfect right now.
The most suspect area is Bill Belichick's pass defense, which ranks No. 29 and allows 290 passing yards per game. Provided the secondary sees minimal improvement throughout November, New England's rugged December schedule won't seem nearly as difficult.
7. Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
Prior to Week 7 the Seattle Seahawks had faced some solid defenses in the Cardinals, Packers and Rams.
None, however, compare to the complete unit of the 49ers which held Seattle to just six points, its lowest total of the season. Another area of concern is road games.
The Seahawks' three losses all have come on the road—in the NFC West—and that has cost them dearly. Fortunately, no more divisional road games exist. That said, the inability to win on the road in general will come back to haunt Russell Wilson and his offense.
With four traveling contests remaining against the Lions, Dolphins, Bears and Bills, the Seahawks must finish perfect at home for a postseason opportunity. Otherwise, 2012 will end in frustrating fashion just like how the 2011 season kicked off.
6. Green Bay Packers (4-3)
If you haven't looked yet, it's probably too late because the Green Bay Packers have caught fire NBA Jam-style.
Aaron Rodgers and the offense have found a sweet rhythm, and it has paid off with two consecutive road victories against tough defenses. Also, the schedule doesn't get insanely difficult when late November and December roll around.
Prior to the bye week, the cheese play host to the Jaguars and Cardinals, which are winnable games. Closing out the final seven with five being in the NFC North, and that's when the Packers' season gets interesting.
And right now, the Pack must win, because according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports:
Big loss for packers. Charles Woodson broken collarbone out 6 weeks— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) October 22, 2012
Provided that Woodson is able to return, that looks like it may not happen until mid-December. If so, winning now against the Jags and Cards is imperative to create some leeway from other NFC playoff contenders.
5. San Francisco 49ers (5-2)
Both of the San Francisco 49ers' losses have come to the Vikings and Giants.
Two notable losses that we can't lose sight of what San Francisco has otherwise done: It has won the games it was expected to win when it mattered most.
We have to remember this team went into Green Bay and beat the Packers while quickly responding by wrecking the Jets and Bills. After getting bulldozed by Ahmad Bradshaw, San Francisco got a key divisional win over the surging Seahawks on a short week.
All that's needed from the 49ers is for Alex Smith to keep gradually improving under center. Week 8 is a tough challenge on the road in Arizona, but two straight home games against the Rams and Bears after the bye set up well before a stretch comprised of four road games between Weeks 12 and 16.
4. Houston Texans (6-1)
So the Houston Texans got smacked by the Packers in Week 6. That quickly faded thanks to a smashing performance over the Ravens on Sunday, and the Texans are now the AFC's standard.
On a bye this week, Houston opens back up with the Bills then plays a big inter-conference road game at Soldier Field against the Bears. The remaining schedule is not enough to keep this team from the postseason, although challenges such as the Colts twice, Titans in Tennessee, Vikings and Patriots will test Houston after Chicago.
Arguably the most well-balanced team on each side of the line, Houston rolled nicely through the first five games. Forcing turnovers and accumulating sacks played a key role, and Matt Schaub is more than just a typical game-manager.
As long as the confidence continues to grow, the road to Super Bowl XXXVII from the AFC goes through Houston.
3. Chicago Bears (5-1)
The Chicago Bears have simply won all the games they were expected to win. Losing at Green Bay was expected because the Bears have struggled immensely against the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Aside from their bitter rival, though, the Bears have been unreal defensively. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are arguably the NFL's best at causing fumbles and locking down at their respective positions.
On Chicago's four-game win streak, Lovie Smith's team has given up just 34 points, and hosting the Panthers this week has similar anticipation. Jay Cutler and the offense also appear to be building confidence, as Brandon Marshall has played consistent all year.
Factor in one of the league's best running back tandems, Devin Hester on special teams and the Bears are a complete team.
2. New York Giants (5-2)
The most impressive thing about the New York Giants' win over the Washington Redskins was that it came after a physical win over the 49ers in San Francisco.
It's one thing to show up for a big game like Eli Manning and Co. did in Week 6. It's on another level to answer that performance with a divisional victory over the confident Redskins, not to mention the Giants were 0-2 in NFC East play prior to Week 7.
Tom Coughlin's offense is balanced as usual, and the defense has increased discipline against the pass and run. Naturally, turnovers then occur and we see Manning win games in the final minutes.
Week 8 simply becomes a greater test for Big Blue because it's on the road versus the Cowboys. Dallas beat the Giants in New York in Week 1, so the magnitude of this game for NFC East implications goes beyond fathomable thought.
1. Atlanta Falcons (6-0)
Until the Atlanta Falcons lose, they'll be widely considered as the current incumbent of the NFL's best team.
Now, being the best team doesn't necessarily mean the Falcons are a perfect team: Record yes, production no.
Atlanta is still vulnerable against the run, and the Dirty Birds aren't the most explosive rushing offense either. It's quite reasonable to compare this team to the Packers of 2011 because their strengths are eerily similar.
Playing at the Eagles is definitely a test in Week 8, and other strong contests come in the form of the Saints in New Orleans and the Cardinals and Giants. Don't expect Atlanta to run the table, although the Dirty Birds are on pace to at least earn a well-deserved bye week in January.
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