NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand Heading into Week 9?
The 2012 NFL season has reached the midway point. That means we're resetting the board. Preseason expectations no longer mean anything (as if they ever really did). Now, we're looking only at what teams have done thus far and what we expect them to do moving forward over the next eight weeks.
Who is the NFL's best team based only on what they've done in 2012? On the flip side, who is the NFL's worst team?
All 32 teams are ranked herein, with each team's MVP making a cameo in this week's NFL Power Rankings.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
There is so much wrong in Kansas City right now, but the most frustrating thing has been the lack of production from top talent. The NFL's youngest roster is playing like a bunch of untested kids.
Turnovers have plagued this team from the get-go. The fact that the Chiefs lead the league in giveaways should be no surprise, and it directly correlates to their record at this point in the season. The change to Brady Quinn didn't help. Matt Cassel wasn't able to do anything when he replaced an injured Quinn in the lineup. Even Jamaal Charles is being bottled up at times.
That's not to say Charles isn't having a great year. In fact, he's one of the few Chiefs players who is having a successful season. Charles and Justin Houston are playing very well, but not good enough to make up for the poor play of their teammates.
MVP: RB Jamaal Charles
31. Carolina Panthers
Never one to bash on Cam Newton unnecessarily, I've tried to stay out of the body-language debates. Newton is having a rough year, but it's not all his fault.
When the Panthers win—and that's been rare this year—Newton is praised. His rookie season brought instant success and star power to a quarterback who had never been on the receiving end of a losing season before. Cam doesn't like to lose, and I'd argue that Cam doesn't know how to handle losing.
The Panthers are a team still building, and Newton is still the chief building block on that roster, but he needs help around him and a coaching staff that can develop his abilities.
MVP: QB Cam Newton
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Even when the Jacksonville Jaguars look like they're going to win, they find a way to lose. With just one win in Mike Mularkey's first season, you have to wonder how much longer he and general manager Gene Smith will have jobs.
Mularkey isn't the only one to blame. First-round pick Justin Blackmon was supposed to provide the spark for the offense and give Blaine Gabbert a reliable threat at wide receiver. Instead, he's an example in lazy route running and poor separation. That falls on Smith's draft choices.
Gabbert hasn't been terrible this year, but he's not developing. With injuries to Maurice Jones-Drew and Daryl Smith holding the team back, it's easy to point to left tackle Eugene Monroe as the best player on this team. Monroe has been elite on the left side and is one of the few bright spots on the Jaguars' depth chart.
MVP: OT Eugene Monroe
29. New York Jets
It's officially getting ugly in New York. Or uglier, maybe.
The New York Jets may have three wins, but they're not that good right now. The team that went toe-to-toe with the New England Patriots in Week 8 wasn't on the field with the Miami Dolphins this week. In fact, that team may never be seen again—like Jimmy Hoffa.
The Jets are bad, and that starts at the top. Head coach Rex Ryan doesn't have the talent or depth to win without Darrelle Revis, and his insistence on sticking with Mark Sanchez at quarterback isn't paying off. Sanchez isn't the worst quarterback in the NFL, but he's not good enough to elevate the team around him. Sanchez needs to be able to manage a talented offense, not carry a bad one.
A surprise over the last four weeks has been the play of Antonio Cromartie at cornerback. Cromartie has been outspoken about his own belief in himself, but he's giving us reason to believe in him, too.
MVP: CB Antonio Cromartie
28. San Diego Chargers
It's hard to look at the San Diego Chargers' three wins and think they're a good team. They've lost their last two games, and in those losses they looked like a team that has no leadership on either side of the ball—or the sidelines.
Many of the problems in San Diego come from the sidelines, where head coach Norv Turner should be looking for new work soon. Turner is a good guy, and he's earned the right to try to turn things around in San Diego, but eventually, general manager A.J. Smith has to see that this is who Turner's teams are.
If you're looking for a bright spot in San Diego, there aren't many, but free safety Eric Weddle continues to play exceptionally well. With his ability to find the ball and create turnovers, Weddle is the prototypical NFL free safety.
MVP: FS Eric Weddle
27. Oakland Raiders
Nothing like a win over the Kansas City Chiefs to put you back into contention.
While beating the No. 32-ranked team isn't much to puff up your chest over, a win is a win. The Raiders are also very much alive with a 3-4 record in the wild (and disappointing) AFC. In a conference where few teams are pulling away, the Raiders are still very much in it.
For the Raiders to come back and make a play at the postseason, Carson Palmer has to play more like the quarterback we've seen the last two games. They'll also need the defense to play like it did in Week 8, and if anyone can jump-start this defense, it's Lamarr Houston.
Easily one of my favorite defenders in the NFL, Houston is an up-and-coming star along the Oakland defensive line. As the offense has sputtered throughout the year, Houston has emerged as the team's MVP.
MVP: DT Lamarr Houston
26. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns may have just two wins, but they are a serious contender to win each week. In an NFL season being dominated by parity, the Browns defense and run game are good enough to keep them alive.
The playoffs aren't likely for the overachieving Browns, but the development of their young stars has been impressive. Brandon Weeden continues to improve at quarterback, to the point where the 29-year-old has earned a right to enter 2013 as the starter. Fellow rookies Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Mitchell Schwartz and Billy Winn have also shown they belong on the first team.
While not a young player, D'Qwell Jackson has been the most important member of the Browns. Jackson's leadership on defense, not to mention his playmaking, has helped transform Cleveland's defense into one of the toughest in the league.
MVP: MLB D'Qwell Jackson
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Trying to decide which version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the "real" Bucs isn't easy. Are they the team that dominated the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, giving them their second loss of the year? Or are they the downtrodden squad that started the year 1-3?
What everyone should know about Tampa is that it plays up to its competition. This is a team that took the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints to the wire. Against the 5-2 Vikings, Greg Schiano's team was ready to play, and they came out firing in a surprise win.
There have been many surprises of the season for Tampa, but the most important player would arguably be Vincent Jackson. The big-play ability that Jackson brings to the team has allowed Josh Freeman to be more creative and led Tampa to a very respectable 3-4 start.
MVP: WR Vincent Jackson
24. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have been a bit inconsistent this year—thus the four losses—but there is a surprising level of talent here. The key is getting good play from everyone at once, and that hasn't happened much.
A last-second loss to the Indianapolis Colts wasn't enough to move Tennessee down this week, but it is telling about the quality of this team. The Titans are good enough to keep things interesting, but when it comes down to it, they're outmanned. Losing to Andrew Luck and the Colts shouldn't be happening to a team with this much talent.
Once quarterback Jake Locker is healthy, the team has a tough decision to make. Matt Hasselbeck has been the team's best player since entering the lineup, and taking him out of the game while the team is still in the running for a wild-card spot might be the worst possible decision.
MVP: QB Matt Hasselbeck
23. Buffalo Bills
A bye week keeps the Buffalo Bills at No. 23 overall as the rest of their division starts to come into focus.
The Bills are behind the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins in the win column right now, but they're still in the fight for the postseason. To do that, they need more C.J. Spiller and less Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Buffalo's offense is at its best when the run game is clicking, and that run game works best when Spiller is doing his thing. Unfortunately, the Bills play the Houston Texans next week. If the team falls to 3-5, climbing back into contention won't be easy.
MVP: RB C.J. Spiller
22. Dallas Cowboys
Who are the real Dallas Cowboys?
Are they the team that let the New York Giants get ahead by 23 points or the team that stormed back and scored 24 of their own? From the head coach down to the players on the field, the Cowboys are too inconsistent to put much faith in.
On any given Sunday, the Cowboys are talented enough to beat any team in the NFL, but that talent level doesn't always show up on the field. Tony Romo plays like an elite quarterback in one quarter, but he's also tossed five interceptions in one game this season.
One guy who hasn't been inconsistent is DeMarcus Ware. As one of the most feared defenders in the entire NFL, Ware sees plenty of attention from opposing offensive linemen. That hasn't slowed him down this season, though, and Ware continues to be the most talented player on this team.
MVP: OLB DeMarcus Ware
21. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals clearly forgot to show up on Monday night. The San Francisco 49ers put a full-scale beatdown on the Arizona defense. While you can't expect the defense to dominate every week, this was pretty bad.
The Cardinals should have moved down this week, but I do still believe they'd be favored over every team below them. Injuries at running back decimated the offensive gameplan in Week 8, and with the defense failing to tackle any 49ers' players who had the football, this game got ugly early on.
One player who truly stands out for Arizona is defensive end Calais Campbell. He's a player who has improved every year he's been in the NFL, to the point where he's a Top 5 3-4 defensive end.
MVP: DE Calais Campbell
20. Indianapolis Colts
No one saw this coming. The Indianapolis Colts have won four games just one season after winning two games the entire year. Credit Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano, Bruce Arians and Andrew Luck for getting the job done. Also, credit Reggie Wayne for having one of his best seasons at 33 years old.
Wayne has been electric this year, and he's really a personification of the entire season. Just as no one expected the Colts to have four wins, no one expected Reggie Wayne to have a season like this.
The Colts have to feel good about where they are right now. Knowing they have their quarterback of the future in place, Grigson and his scouts can focus on improving the overall talent level of the team through free agency and the 2013 NFL draft.
MVP: WR Reggie Wayne
19. Philadelphia Eagles
Not much is going right for the Philadelphia Eagles. Losing to the Atlanta Falcons in impressive fashion puts Philly at 3-4 and trending down as the second half of the season begins.
Andy Reid needs to make major changes to the team, but he may be too stubborn to do so. If Reid isn't willing to get the ball to LeSean McCoy and if he's not considering replacing Michael Vick at quarterback, then the rest of the season is hopeless in Philadelphia.
The lack of touches for McCoy, especially in the run game, is maddening. McCoy is the most talented offensive player on the Philadelphia roster, but Reid ignores him early in games and then tries to be too cute with him in the second half.
Running the ball with McCoy would result in wins. Period.
MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
18. New Orleans Saints
It's too soon to completely write off the New Orleans Saints, but the 2012 season hasn't been kind. It won't get much better.
Drew Brees has been as good as he can be, all things considered, but the fact is that this team isn't good enough to overcome the loss of its head coach for the year. Few teams would be, if any. That's not a knock on the Saints but rather the cold, hard reality of a disappointing season.
The 2012 season has also exposed some weaknesses on the team. The offensive line has to get better on the edges. The secondary is a train wreck. The pass rush isn't there, and the team doesn't have the players needed to run Steve Spagnuolo's scheme.
Big changes will be needed for the Saints to compete in 2013, but as long as Sean Payton is coaching and Drew Brees is in at quarterback, New Orleans will be a competitor.
MVP: QB Drew Brees
17. Cincinnati Bengals
A bye week before Week 9 came at the right time. The Cincinnati Bengals needed a break to get back on track after a dismantling at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now the team should be refreshed and ready to roll.
Much has gone well for the Bengals this year, but this is still a team that few take seriously. Their 3-4 record points to a young franchise that's not quite ready to take over in the AFC North, but you can see the building blocks in place for this team to be very good very soon.
Players like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins have amazing potential and production thus far. Atkins has been notably phenomenal for the Cincinnati defense. He's a more-than-capable pass-rusher and has been unstoppable when shooting the gaps to create pressure in the backfield. For his dominance, Atkins is this team's MVP.
MVP: DT Geno Atkins
16. St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams found themselves on the wrong end of a New England Patriots revenge tour. A throttling by Bill Belichick's crew in London won't sit easy for the Rams, but it's a learning experience and proof of how much further the team has to go.
There are moments when this team looks unbeatable. While we didn't see that in Week 8, we've seen it before. Sam Bradford is playing much better football, and that may be lost due to a very low talent level around him. It's clear that Brian Schottenheimer and Bradford click.
On defense, Jeff Fisher's imprint has been noticeable. The tough, aggressive style that Fisher prefers is making its appearance in St. Louis. No player better represents that than Cortland Finnegan. The tough-nosed cornerback is the poster boy for playing rough.
MVP: CB Cortland Finnegan
15. Detroit Lions
Talk about a maddening team. Despite the fact that Matthew Stafford still hasn't thrown a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions won a nail-biter in Week 8. At 3-4, they may be at the bottom of the NFC North standings, but Jim Schwartz's club can't be ruled out or overlooked.
There are many mistakes each week, and the Lions' run defense is still absent, but finding a way to win ugly can often lead to momentum. That's something this team lacks and needs desperately. If their Week 8 win can result in some momentum, the Lions have the tools to be scary.
Calvin Johnson may be the most talented player on the team, but the Lions will only go as far as Stafford takes them. For better or worse, he's the most valuable player on this team.
MVP: QB Matthew Stafford
14. Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins will go as far as Robert Griffin can take them. Period.
The coaching is important—we saw that in Week 8—and the defense needs to make its fair share of plays, but Griffin is the catalyst for this team. If RGIII plays well, the Redskins are competitive and usually find a way to win. When he's off, the team is, too.
Week 8 was an odd one for the Redskins, and the absences of wide receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis definitely hurt the offense, but the Redskins also struggled defensively. This is a team good enough to pull off a surprise, but more consistency is a must.
MVP: QB Robert Griffin III
13. Seattle Seahawks
A loss in Week 8 stings, but the Seattle Seahawks are still capable of being a complete, all-around football team. Unfortunately, it only seems to happen when they're playing at home.
This isn't a team built to win on the road or from behind. The lack of a vertical threat in the offense often causes defenses to pile up on running back Marshawn Lynch—even though that doesn't mean they're stopping him.
Lynch's play this season has been truly fantastic, and that really started midseason last year. Lynch has been a breath of fresh air in today's game of running out of bounds and ticky-tack fouls. His ability to absorb and initiate contact and then keep going is a welcome addition to the flag-football style NFL we see too often.
MVP: RB Marshawn Lynch
12. Minnesota Vikings
The Week 8 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was alarming, but it came on a short week and will serve notice in Minnesota that the team isn't invincible. While the Vikings are playing very well, they're still in the NFL's toughest division. Work remains to be done.
The biggest issue with this team right now is quarterback Christian Ponder. The Vikings need more from Ponder, who flashes brilliance at times and then goes on a dry spell. That's expected from a second-year quarterback, but Ponder needs to show that he's ready to develop and take over this offense. The potential is there.
As Ponder grows, the pressure falls on Adrian Peterson to carry the offense, and he has. Peterson shouldn't look this good so soon after major knee surgery. His quickness and burst look to be back, which is good news for Minnesota and scary for the rest of the league.
MVP: RB Adrian Peterson
11. Miami Dolphins
It seems like every week I'm writing some form of apology to Jeff Ireland and Ryan Tannehill. Might as well keep the streak alive.
Tannehill continues to impress me, but really, the entire Miami Dolphins team does. Joe Philbin has the team playing in a way any Hard Knocks-watching fan would never believe. The Dolphins are tough, selfless and—most weeks—efficient.
The way the Dolphins took apart the New York Jets in Week 8 goes to show how far the team has come. They dominated with the pass rush and were able to score enough to force New York out of its comfort zone.
Once the Dolphins get a lead, Cameron Wake is unleashed. His 7.5 sacks on the year lead the team, and over the Dolphins' three-game winning streak, Wake has had a sack in each game.
Both Wake and the Dolphins are getting hot at the right time.
MVP: DE Cameron Wake
10. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens don't feel like a 5-2 ballclub, not with the huge injuries coming down on defense. How well this team plays without Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis over the second half will ultimately determine its level of success in a year when a Super Bowl berth was the expectation.
You may be wondering how Ray Rice can be the MVP in a season where we all complain about his lack of use? That's precisely it. Rice is the most valuable and most talented player on the team, and the Ravens' refusal to use him will be to their demise. A team with a banged-up defense would be wise to put the ball into the very capable hands of its running back and control the clock.
MVP: RB Ray Rice
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
In a year when so few AFC teams are separating themselves from the pack, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to be taken seriously. And I'm telling myself that as much as anyone.
The 2012 season is shaping up to be a year when a 9-7 team not only has a shot at the playoffs but a shot at the Super Bowl. With Ben Roethlisberger, a roster full of talented receivers and an improving defense, the Steelers have a good chance of making noise late.
Lost in the attention given to so many other quarterbacks is the year Roethlisberger is having. As the team transitions to Todd Haley's offense, Big Ben is playing as well as ever.
MVP: QB Ben Roethlisberger
8. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning continues to get better, which should be scary enough by itself. Add in the fact that Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Co. are gaining in their chemistry with Manning, and you have an offense built to run up a lead.
Once the Broncos establish a lead, their defense takes over. With Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller rushing the passer, the Denver defense is able to protect a lead as well as any defense in the NFL. The secondary isn't elite, but it doesn't have to be when the pass rush asks it to be in coverage for so little time.
The Broncos are heating up, and anything less than the AFC West title would be a surprise at this point.
MVP: QB Peyton Manning
7. Chicago Bears
It's tough to put much faith in the Chicago Bears after they barely beat the Carolina Panthers, but this is still a 6-1 team and the leader of the NFC North.
I've been a Jay Cutler defender when few were, but the polarizing quarterback has to be better for Chicago to win. That word, better, can be a bit vague, so let's clarify. Cutler has to make better decisions. He has to be efficient, and he has to take advantage of the opportunities that are there.
Thankfully for Chicago fans, the Bears have an excellent defense. With cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman playing as well as any duo in the NFL, the Bears match up well against the NFL's best offenses. If Cutler can play efficiently, Chicago has the talent to win a Super Bowl.
MVP: CB Tim Jennings
6. New York Giants
If you've been reading the power rankings for long, you've seen me say on many occasions that "a win is a win." That's still the case, but even when winning, it's possible to move down in the rankings. That's what happens to the New York Giants this week after Dez Bryant's phalanges saved the Giants from a sweep by the Dallas Cowboys.
Lucky or not, the Giants are 6-2 and sit atop the NFC East's win-loss column. They're also still one of the most dangerous teams in the league. So many NFL teams play down to their competition, but the Giants have a way of playing up to theirs. When the game matters, New York is tough to beat.
Much of that is a direct result of Eli Manning's play at quarterback. When talking about the top five quarterbacks in the NFL, Manning has to be in the discussion with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. His play in 2012 will go a long way in cementing his status.
MVP: QB Eli Manning
5. New England Patriots
If only the New England Patriots could play every week like they did in Week 8. Until Bill Belichick can find a way to make his team feel disrespected each week, the Patriots will remain one of the most talented and frustrating teams in the NFL.
The way the offense dominated the St. Louis Rams defense is all the proof anyone would need that Tom Brady's team is still elite. Brady dissected Jeff Fisher's defense in a way that few can. When he is clicking, no defense has the answer for what Brady can do.
The Patriots may be running the ball more, but this is still Brady's team, and the Patriots will go as far as No. 12 can carry them. Most seasons, that's all the way to the Super Bowl. With the Ravens injured and the Texans losing Brian Cushing, the road to the Super Bowl is open for the Patriots.
MVP: QB Tom Brady
4. Green Bay Packers
Way back when the Green Bay Packers were 2-3, having just lost to the Indianapolis Colts, many fair-weather fans jumped off the bandwagon. Three weeks later, the Packers are 5-3 and look every bit as commanding as they did during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Week 8 was tough, thanks to injuries to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, but the team still won. You never want the Jacksonville Jaguars holding you to 24 points, and the game was closer at times than the 24-15 result, but the Packers showed a resiliency that's been missing at times.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback and Clay Matthews is rushing the passer, it's tough to bet against Green Bay. Rodgers is back to his MVP ways, and that's why Green Bay continues to move up this week.
MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers
3. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers escaped a trap-game on Monday night, putting a beating on the division rival Arizona Cardinals in the process. It makes you wonder where these 49ers were against the Giants and the Vikings?
There are so many players worth highlighting for the 49ers, but running back Frank Gore really stands out on a weekly basis. It's Gore who embodies the work ethic Jim Harbaugh has instilled in this team. It's Gore who bounces off contact and finds a way to seemingly fall forward on every down.
You can point to almost any starter on defense as an MVP, but it's Gore who sets the tempo and momentum for the team.
MVP: RB Frank Gore
2. Houston Texans
Hopefully no one forgot about the Houston Texans during their bye week. The AFC's most balanced team—not to mention winningest team—is in a perfect position to make a dominating run through the second half of its schedule.
As long as the Texans can avoid further injury down the stretch, there is every reason to believe they'll play in the Super Bowl. The team has two legitimate MVP candidates in Arian Foster and J.J. Watt, a balanced offense that can strike as a run-based operation or in the passing game and a defense that excels at shutting down the pass.
Put it all together and you have a balanced, complete football team with bright enough coaches to win a Lombardi Trophy.
MVP: DE J.J. Watt
1. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons are the NFL's only unbeaten team. Critics said they hadn't played a good team yet. Well, they've now taken down the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles. What more do we expect?
The Falcons haven't been stopped yet this year, and really, that's all that matters. While they might be challenged by the Texans, 49ers, Giants or Bears, right now no one has been able to play well enough for 60 minutes to take down the Falcons.
Much of the credit in Atlanta goes to head coach Mike Smith and new coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan, but the uncontested MVP has been quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is playing on a level never before seen in his bright NFL career.
MVP: QB Matt Ryan