With the 2012 season officially hitting the halfway mark, the battle for conference supremacy begins heating up among the top contenders in the NFC.
With the postseason contenders becoming more clear, here are my NFL power rankings after Week 8.
The Kansas City Chiefs are tied for the worst record in football, but are undoubtedly the league's worst team.
With a loss against the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs have now gone seven games without leading a game in regulation!
Meanwhile, Jamaal Charles was only given four carries on the day, and Romeo Crennel had no answer to the lack of carries from the team's most explosive playmaker.
The Carolina Panthers came up on the losing end once again, despite the offense out-gaining the Chicago Bears by more than 200 yards.
Unfortunately, the Panthers' inability to close games late continues to be an ongoing problem. Cam Newton threw another costly interception late in the fourth quarter that resulted in a pick-six.
After gaining the lead back with two minutes left, the defense continued its woeful weekly performances. This time, they were unable to stop Jay Cutler and the Bears offense when it mattered most.
Moving forward for this week, the biggest question now is whether DeAngelo Williams will be traded before the Tuesday trading deadline.
Despite holding the Green Bay Packers to 25 points, the Jacksonville Jaguars offense couldn't provide enough scoring to pull off the monumental offense.
In fact, the biggest problem wasn't Blaine Gabbert, who threw for 303 yards against a plagued Packers secondary.
Instead it was his wide receivers, most notably Justin Blackmon, who couldn't make a huge catch late in the game when it mattered most.
Although the 7-6 victory wasn't the score that the Browns envisioned, they will certainly take the hard-fought win this late in the season.
Trent Richardson continues to be the most consistent offensive threat on this Browns roster, as his touchdown run was the only score for the Browns this week.
With eight games left, the players must focus on playing well to secure a roster spot for next year with Jimmy Haslam running the show.
The Miami Dolphins won by a final score of 30-9, with the Jets dominated in all phases of the game.
Despite losing Ryan Tannehill to injury, Miami used its special teams and rock-solid defense to send the Jets to their fifth loss on the year.
This could eventually lead to an overhaul at the end of the season, with the Jets primed for a last-place finish in the division.
The Oakland Raiders won their second straight game of the year and third overall with their domination of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Clearly, the biggest surprise was a Raiders defense that played inspired football under head coach Dennis Allen.
The clear focus was holding Jamaal Charles in check, and that was accomplished by limiting him to five carries and four yards.
Can the Raiders extend the winning streak to three games next week and stay in the hunt for a playoff spot in the AFC?
Regardless, the team is heading in the right direction under current management.
The St. Louis Rams were dominated early on by the New England Patriots on a neural site in London.
After taking an early 7-0 lead, the defense was no match against a lethal Patriots passing attack. Janoris Jenkins had a rough day covering Brandon Lloyd, and Rob Gronkowski took advantage of the young linebackers in Jeff Fisher's defense.
As for the offense, it's inexcusable to score seven points against one of the worse secondaries in football.
The Tennessee Titans had the perfect opportunity to win a divisional home game and put themselves in the driver's seat for a wild-card spot in the AFC.
Meanwhile, the Titans defense was unable to generate a stop when it mattered late in the game, allowing two touchdowns between the fourth quarter and overtime to fall to 3-5 on the year.
Drew Brees may be playing at his typical elite level in 2012, but his teammates haven't given him the same support during their five losses this season.
New Orleans had difficulty facing Manning on the many lengthy drives throughout the game, which eventually led to points while keeping Drew Brees on the sidelines.
This isn't just a Sean Payton problem. There is a lot of room for improvement to be made before the Saints return to a contender in the challenging NFC.
The San Diego Chargers are who I thought they were: a team that is nothing better than .500 in the weak AFC West.
Philip Rivers' fall as one of the elite quarterbacks has ultimately led to a losing record for the Chargers after starting the season 3-0.
Clearly, he misses Vincent Jackson, who was always the most consistent target for Rivers on a weekly basis. A.J. Smith allowed Jackson to leave for the Buccaneers and felt that Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal could replace his production.
It seems inevitable that Norv Turner will receive his pink slip at the end of the season—this probably should have happened last year.
The Buffalo Bills have not lived up to their expectations through the first eight weeks and hope to have used this bye to prepare for the final two months of the season.
Through their first seven games, the Bills have received dreadful performances from the entire defense. Mario Williams hasn't provided the spark that the Bills envisioned when signing him to the blockbuster contract.
The pressure of earning a playoff appearance has been put on the shoulders of Ryan Fitzpatrick, which spells trouble for this team moving forward.
Their win over Seattle erases a bit of the concerns from the Monday night thrashing they received at the hands of the Chicago Bears, but this team isn't playoff-caliber in 2012.
The defense continues to lack quality play from their secondary, while the defensive line hasn't carried this unit to an elite level in 2012.
Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson has recorded only one touchdown through seven games. If the team's best player isn't making an impact in the end zone, there's no reason to question why this team has a losing record.
Robert Griffin III didn't have his best game as a rookie, but it was the lack of receivers that showed up Sunday. They couldn't capitalize on a Steelers secondary that is old and injury-prone.
The defense didn't phase Ben Roethlisberger, who picked apart DeAngelo Hall and company the entire day.
The Redskins have shown potential, but they have a long way to go in order to become a contender in the NFC East.
The bye couldn't have come at a better time for the Cincinnati Bengals, who needed to regroup after another loss against a divisional opponent with a winning record.
While the playoffs are not out of reach for the Bengals, it's becoming a concern as to whether or not this team can ever get over the hump by defeating any elite teams.
Andy Dalton has been less impressive in his rookie season in large part to the lack of talent surrounding him. Defenses are providing extra coverage on A.J. Green each week, and no other receiver has taken advantage of the one-on-one coverages.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked extremely impressive in their dominating performance over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.
Josh Freeman continued his efficient play against an improved Vikings secondary, throwing for three touchdowns and zero interceptions on the day.
Doug Martin provided the explosiveness in the backfield and continues to thrive in Greg Schiano's run-oriented scheme. His size and skill set bring deserving comparisons of All-Pro running back Ray Rice, which could bold well for the Buccaneers' future.
Are the Philadelphia Eagles preparing for more change after another disappointing performance? They were dominated by the Atlanta Falcons from the first possession of the game, marking the first loss for head coach Andy Reid coming off a bye week.
Is he ready to make a quarterback change? Michael Vick hasn't earned the opportunity to start any further, but are the Eagles ready to throw in the towel just yet?
Reid fired Juan Castillo two weeks ago, and the defense had arguably its worst outing of the season against the Falcons.
It doesn't seem likely for Reid to survive another season without a playoff appearance if the Eagles can't turn their success around quickly.
The Dallas Cowboys provided some late game magic to erase a 23-0 deficit and almost pull out the victory on the New York Giants.
Instead, Jason Garrett continued his questionable play-calling, Tony Romo threw a costly interception late in the fourth quarter, and Dez Bryant failed to come up in the clutch when it mattered most.
With a 3-4 record, the Cowboys will face a challenge of even appearing in the playoffs due to the competitive NFC.
There are many people who need to be held accountable for the Cowboys' rough seven games, but the question remains whether it will cost anyone their job at the end of the season.
With three straight losses, the Cardinals will attempt to tie the NFC West leader in their home stadium. However, the weaknesses of Arizona have been put on display the last three weeks.
Their inability to stop the run has led to below-average performances from their defense, while both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton continue to endure playing behind a terrible offensive line.
This is gut-check time for the Cardinals, who will show whether they are a threat to the 49ers or a team more likely to finish sub-.500 on the year.
The Seahawks suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season, with the most recent loss coming against the struggling Detroit Lions.
On Sunday, it was the defense that had its worst performance of the season, allowing a game-winning drive by Matthew Stafford in the final seconds.
Russell Wilson has been a pleasant surprise for the Seahawks, but the lack of receivers surrounding him is a concern as this team begins the stretch run.
These next few weeks will be crucial for this young Seahawks team. Are they ready to be a legitimate threat to the top teams in the NFC, or do they remain a season away from emerging as a challenger for a title?
The Indianapolis Colts earn their solid ranking this week after a hard-fought overtime win over the Tennessee Titans and improving to 4-3 on the year.
Andrew Luck continues to shine in his rookie season by making the big throws late in games when needed most by his team. He has already proved his worth by out-dueling Aaron Rodgers a few weeks ago.
On the flip side, the defense continues to play inspired football in Chuck Pagano's offense, limiting the Titans to 13 points on their home field.
In a conference where a lack of quality teams exist, the Colts could become the biggest surprise in the league if they earn a wild-card spot in the AFC.
The Minnesota Vikings were exposed as a team that benefited from an easy schedule to begin the year. Their secondary was a concern coming into the season, and Josh Freeman had no trouble finding success down the field against a unit highlighted by rookie Harrison Smith.
Adrian Peterson continues to be a workhorse for the Vikings offense, and Percy Harvin is showing glimpses of being a top receiver while he's healthy.
However, Christian Ponder is becoming more erratic with the football and will be the difference in the Vikings making the playoffs, or suffer as a result of their difficult stretch to end the season.
After a week of trash talk by the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins sent a clear message to their division rival in a 30-9 rout at the Meadowlands.
Despite losing Ryan Tannehill to an injury, the Dolphins defense and special teams stepped up on Sunday. Miami's defense held New York to three points through three quarters, effectively putting the game out of reach.
The show of the game was the Dolphins special teams, who managed to block a punt, block a field goal and recover an onside kick in the same game.
Their physical style of football makes them an intriguing team that appears to be in good shape fighting for the two wild-card spots in the AFC.
The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be gaining steam at the right time, as their second straight win has brought them to a game behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger continues to flourish in Todd Haley's high-octane attack, but it was Jonathan Dwyer who provided another major spark in the running game for the Steelers offense.
If there were questions about the defense, the veteran unit clearly came to play Sunday by limiting Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense to only 12 points.
The Steelers can't wait for their annual showdown with the Ravens in two weeks on prime time, with first place likely being on the line in the division.
The Baltimore Ravens look to regroup on their latest bye week after enduring their worst loss during the John Harbaugh era.
Joe Flacco historically bounces back after horrific games, but is he carrying too much of the offense at this point? Ray Rice continues to be underused, but the plan could be to rely on him once again late in the season.
The biggest concern has to be a defense that needs to recover in a hurry and move past the injuries to Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis.
Baltimore has two potential easy victories against the Browns and Raiders the next two weeks. Can they capitalize on the opportunity?
The New England Patriots imposed their will on St. Louis en route to a 45-7 victory in London.
Tom Brady had his best game of the season while spreading the ball around to Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski, who have endured quiet starts to the 2012 season.
After giving up an early touchdown, the Patriots defense shut down the predictable Rams attack. Chandler Jones continues to show his worth as a rookie, which greatly boosts that defensive front.
However, will the constant poor performances by the secondary hurt this team once again in the postseason?
The Green Bay Packers avoided blowing a nine-point lead against the upset-minded Jaguars and kept pace with the Bears in the NFC North race.
Aaron Rodgers had to work without Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson, but had zero problems providing enough points for the Packers against the worst pass defense in the NFL.
The Achilles' heel of this team is whether or not the secondary can avoid more injuries late in the season and have enough talent to stop the high-powered offenses of the NFC.
The Denver Broncos are the league's hottest team as Peyton Manning continues performing as the front-runner for the NFL MVP.
He has thrown for 300-plus yards five straight games, which ties a career record for Manning. He is working with a variety of receivers that have formed great chemistry and are making the most out of their opportunity.
On Sunday night, the defense took care of business by limiting Drew Brees for the majority of the game. Credit is due to Jack Del Rio, who is improving a unit that could make the Broncos the eventual team to beat in the AFC.
Alex Smith has received more responsibilities within the San Francisco 49ers offense and will be the ultimate difference-maker in this team's ability to run the table to a championship.
Smith has received the opportunity to throw the football more with the improved weapons around him, but thus far his performances have commanded mixed results.
The defense, led by Patrick Willis, continues to be arguably the best unit in the league. However, the pressure will ultimately fall on Smith to be efficient enough to lead the 49ers to New Orleans.
The Chicago Bears survived a scare from the Carolina Panthers on their home turf after trailing the majority of the football game, although the offense and defense made the clutch plays in the fourth quarter, ultimately leading to their sixth win of the season.
Tim Jennings returned Cam Newton's second interception for a touchdown and gave the Bears a lead late in the fourth quarter. However, Jay Cutler led a game-winning drive in the final two minutes, which led to the game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould.
At 6-1, the Bears turn their attention toward securing a first-round bye and becoming much closer to returning to their first Super Bowl in the Jay Cutler era.
The Houston Texans proved to be the most dominant team in the AFC after its convincing win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Gary Kubiak has executed a well-balanced offense through the first two months, as Matt Schaub and Arian Foster continue to build on their success from a season ago.
Last week, the defense garnered the spotlight by taking control of the game right from the start.
J.J. Watt is not only the defensive player of the year thus far, but he is also receiving MVP consideration for the impact he is having on the Texans.
The New York Giants built a significant lead in the NFC East with two straight victories against divisional opponents.
This time it was the Cowboys, who almost provided a comeback despite falling 23-0 early in the game.
Eli Manning continues to step up in the game's biggest moments, proving that again in the second half on Sunday.
The defense also came up clutch when it mattered most by holding the Cowboys to zero points on their final drive of the game.
It's hard to argue against the Giants for being the current favorite in the NFC.
The Atlanta Falcons remain as the only undefeated team in the NFL after taking care of business on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Matt Ryan continues to excel in the up-tempo offense, which has suited his game since his days as a rookie.
The receiver combination of Roddy White, Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez poses problems for any quality defense in the league.
Speaking of defense, Mike Nolan continues to be one of the more underrated defensive coordinators in the league as his defense has been effective when it counted most this season.
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