NFL power rankings are a fluid commodity. They’re ever-changing and heavily contested from analyst to analyst. The 2012 season has already seen many changes in the power structure of the league.
However, there are a couple undeniable truths as the league approaches the halfway point of the season.
First, the Atlanta Falcons are the league’s best team so far.
Second, the wheels are falling off the Kansas City Chiefs' wagon, and there’s no telling what will happen with that situation.
Lastly, everything is susceptible to change.
That leaves a pretty broad stretch of what falls in between. Let’s take a look, then, at where each team ranks as precursor to the start of the second half of the season.
1. Atlanta Falcons (7-0)
The Falcons answered some big question marks with a convincing win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8. They remain the league’s lone undefeated team and are unquestionably deserving of the top spot after putting together their most complete game of the season against the Eagles.
2. Houston Texans (6-1)
Houston’s shellacking of the beat-up Baltimore Ravens shouldn’t go too understated. The Ravens are still a competitive football team, and any time you can go lay a 43-13 beating on a team it says something about your squad.
Houston has looked bad just once this season, and it was at the hands of a nearly fully-equipped Green Bay Packers offense.
3. San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
A road letdown in Minnesota and a complete embarrassment at home against the New York Giants are the only smudges on an otherwise good start to the season for the Niners. Their tough defense makes it hard for anyone to move the football.
Alex Smith has been up and down this season, and the success of this team is riding on his ability to play mistake-free football. He’s not asked to carry the load himself but needs to be able to better manage situations and avoid costly turnovers.
If the Niners get into a hole, it’s hard for them to dig out with the way their team is designed.
4. Green Bay Packers (5-3)
Green Bay is a couple minutes and a terribly botched call away from being a 7-1 team. They’re beat up right now on both sides of the ball, but will be okay against Arizona this week and then have bye in Week 10. The Pack will play five of their six divisional games in the second half of the season, giving them full control of their playoff destiny.
5. Chicago Bears (6-1)
It hasn’t always been pretty, but the defensive-minded Bears have worked themselves into a favorable NFC North division lead near the midway point of the season. They’ll need to keep playing at a high level on defense and win some division games if they hope to ward off the Packers from swooping in and taking the division from them.
6. New York Giants (6-2)
Defense wins championships. The Giants have relied on their defense to get them two Super Bowl wins in the past five years. That defense has deteriorated though this season and too much of a burden is being put on Eli Manning to carry the load.
7. New England Patriots (5-3)
Bill Belichick had his team ready to go in London, and the Pats responded by laying a beatdown on the supposedly defensively sound Rams. Inconsistency in the secondary is the only thing keeping this team from being Super Bowl contenders right now.
8. Denver Broncos (4-3)
Denver’s three losses have come at the hands of the Texans (6-1), Falcons (7-0) and Patriots (5-3). All of the games were close, and the Texans and Falcons losses were due to horrendous first-half starts by the team’s defense.
9. Miami Dolphins (4-3)
The Dolphins are a nice first-half surprise. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill looks more ready than many believed, and the team’s defense has been better than advertised in many games this season. Stopping the better passing teams still looks to be an issue, but they’re as good as anyone at shutting down the run.
10. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Baltimore has suffered some devastating injuries on defense and is no longer the same five-win team that looked poised for a playoff run.
They’re looking for a new identity, mainly on offense, and need to be more consistent on that side of the ball to mask the deficiencies resulting from injuries on defense.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
Just when you thought the Steelers were out of it, they come right back and rattle off back-to-back wins in the very next breathe. As much as it seemed like the defense was aging and deteriorating, they’ve come back strong after stifling a potent Robert Griffin III-led rushing attack in Week 8 at Heinz Field.
12. Seattle Seahawks (4-4)
The Seahawks are a defense-first team that relies heavily on its ability to control the game. That’s worked well outside of the NFC West and while home at CenturyLink Field. They’re 3-0 while playing at home and just 1-4 in road games.
A team that’s built to on defense typically struggles in close games against other solid defenses. That’s been the case for the Hawks, who are 0-3 in divisional games so far.
13. Indianapolis Colts (4-3)
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is everything the Colts hoped he’d be and maybe a little more. Last season the Colts won just two games, a number they’ve already doubled before the halfway point in 2012.
14. Minnesota Vikings (5-3)
I’ve heard people say the Vikings are the worst 5-3 team they’ve seen. It’s hard to argue that after the shellacking they took at home against the then 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Their defense has been exposed recently by the Redskins and Bucs, and Christian Ponder hasn’t been good enough to keep his team in the game. He needs to be better if the Vikings hope to avoid a meltdown of their season.
15. Detroit Lions (3-4)
Detroit has been perhaps the most inconsistent team in the NFL. Its special teams unit has cost it two games by itself, and the offense is finally beginning to come around after a big Week 8 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
16. Dallas Cowboys (3-4)
Dallas needs to evaluate its offensive game plan because having Tony Romo throwing 62 times is not a recipe for success, even against a poor pass defense like the Giants. Romo has poor ball security and puts his team in deficits that are hard for them to dig themselves out of.
17. Washington Redskins (3-5)
Robert Griffin III is the real deal, but until the Skins can play some defense and get Pierre Garcon back on offense, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for the team in 2012.
Things just got worse for the team’s secondary too. DeAngelo Hall is on his way out with a likely suspension once the league reviews his incident with a referee in Week 8.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)
The Bucs won a big Thursday night game against the then 5-2 Vikings after four days of rest coming off of a last-minute upset bid that fell short against the Saints in Week 7. It took a lot of heart to bounce back and win a big game like that on the road.
19. Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
Arizona is in shambles after losing another divisional matchup to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. The offensive line is terrible, and they can’t get any type of consistency going on offense, no matter who is in at quarterback.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Benching Michael Vick seems like a real possibility after another disappointing loss for the Eagles. Does going to Nick Foles signal retreat by Andy Reid or does he really think the Eagles will compete better with Foles behind center?
21. St. Louis Rams (3-5)
The NFC West is a division full of testy defenses. Unfortunately for the Rams, they have the worst of the bunch, and their offense just isn’t good enough to win games when the defense struggles.
22. San Diego Chargers (3-4)
San Diego has looked ugly and looked even worse in a 7-6 loss to the Browns thanks to a bad day of weather in Cleveland in Week 8. Ryan Mathews continues to fumble, and Phillip Rivers keeps throwing erratically whenever pressure gets close. This team is going nowhere right now, and it’s only a matter of time before Norv Turner’s seat goes up in flames.
23. Tennessee Titans (3-5)
The Titans are 2-1 with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck under center and were close to making it 3-0 before a late Colts drive undid those plans in Week 8. Jake Locker may be out awhile, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team continues to play with Hasselbeck in there as opposed to inserting Locker in order to help him develop.
24. Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Oakland’s coming off good back-to-back performances. Beating the Chiefs last week isn’t anything to get too excited about, but a win at home in Week 9 against the Bucs would bring them to .500 for the first time this season.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)
The Bengals won three straight to improve to 3-1 before dropping their last three games against Cleveland, Miami and Pittsburgh. They’re 1-3 in the AFC North and don’t look like they have much fight left in them. A tough matchup against the Broncos coming off their bye may be the early dagger for the Bengals' playoff hopes.
26. New York Jets (3-5)
Where do the Jets go from here? Rex Ryan is being stubborn and will continue to keep Mark Sanchez as his starting quarterback. Sanchez gives the team the “best chance to win,” Ryan said, according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.
The Jets are injury riddled as well, and the constant media distractions and cries for Tim Tebow to start aren’t doing the team any good.
27. New Orleans Saints (2-5)
The Saints have the worst defense in the history of the NFL through the first seven games. That’s in terms of yards allowed. They’re surrendering 474.7 yards per game through those first seven games and have looked terrible.
On Sunday night, the offense also ran into some problems against the Broncos. If Drew Brees isn’t putting up video game stats this team doesn’t have a very good chance to beat anyone.
28. Buffalo Bills (3-4)
Buffalo is coming off of its bye week at a good time. With a rested and hopefully medically cleared team they’ll be able to save themselves a little embarrassment against the toughest part of their schedule. Over the next four weeks the Bills will play at Houston, New England and Indianapolis while hosting the Dolphins on a Thursday night contest.
29. Cleveland Browns (2-6)
Cleveland won its second game of the season in ugly fashion over the San Diego Chargers. The rain and wind may have helped, but the team’s defense and running game both showed up really well. If Trent Richardson can stay healthy and Brandon Weeden mistake-free, things may begin to trend up for the beleaguered Browns franchise.
30. Carolina Panthers (1-6)
The Panthers have been close in several games but haven’t been able to put teams away. They aren’t terrible, but they’ve struggled with finishing and struggled heavily in consistency on offense under second-year coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
Jacksonville showed some signs of life against a beat up Packers team last week but even then weren’t good enough to get a win. An injury to Maurice Jones-Drew and shaky offensive line play isn’t doing second-year QB Blaine Gabbert any favors.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6)
The Brady Quinn era in Kansas City lasted a little over four quarters as the former Notre Dame product left with a head injury during the team’s Week 8 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Jamaal Charles got only five carries in the game, and the team’s clueless head coach said he wasn’t sure why that happened, according to AP writer Dave Skretta (via Twitter).
Mike Hoag Jr. is a B/R Breaking News Team writer and covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site. Follow him on Twitter for analysis and updates on the latest news and happenings in the sports world.