If the 2012 NFL season has taught us anything, it's that what happens one week has no standing on the next week. At all.
In one of the craziest seasons ever, few teams are able to consistently win enough to remain standing as elite contenders for a Super Bowl run. After nine weeks of play, which team is the best? Conversely, which team is the worst?
We're taking a fresh look at the NFL's landscape again. Where does your team come out?
The Kansas City Chiefs aren't the least talented team in the NFL, but they're arguably the worst coached.
The talent level on the Chiefs roster is pretty impressive, outside of a few questionable starters at quarterback and on the defensive line. The next head coach of the Chiefs will find a roster that's ready to win right away if coached up to its potential.
And there will be a next head coach in Kansas City very soon.
Maybe a new general manager, too. Scott Pioli has done some good things, but he's also tied himself to two coaches (Todd Haley and now Romeo Crennel) who couldn't win. He also bet on quarterback Matt Cassel in a decision that has held the franchise back.
There's talent here, and a new head coach and new quarterback could get the Chiefs into the playoffs next season.
When talking about the Kansas City Chiefs, I said they weren't the least talented team in the NFL. If you were wondering who is, the answer is the Jacksonville Jaguars.
General manager Gene Smith's decision making has led the Jaguars to a 1-7 start, and there's not much optimism in sight for the remaining eight games. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert continues to prove that he's not a long-term answer as a starter. The offensive line is a mess, outside of stud Eugene Monroe. First-rounder Justin Blackmon, for whom the team traded up, hasn't discovered what "NFL effort" means.
In summation, this roster needs to be blown up.
The Jaguars have many needs, most of them in the front office. Where the Chiefs have talent and poor coaching, the Jaguars have poor coaching and poor talent.
A win over the Washington Redskins moves the Carolina Panthers up one spot in this week's rankings, and it should also quiet at least some of the Cam Newton doubters. At least for another week.
Newton played well in the team's win, but most impressive was the way the Carolina defense handled Robert Griffin and friends. In a close contest (21-13), the Panthers kept the dangerous and exciting Griffin from making plays outside the pocket. Carolina's four sacks were huge.
Still, the Panthers aren't a good team. They're tough, and they'll be a tough out with Newton at quarterback and Charles Johnson attacking offenses, but this isn't a team poised to run through the next eight weeks and surprise folks.
This still looks like a six-win team at best.
The New York Jets were off in Week 9, providing the team with a midseason break to reassess its plans for the season and its depth chart. As the second half of the season starts in New York, the Jets need to win at least six of their eight remaining games for a shot at the playoffs.
With three wins so far and with their best player (Darrelle Revis) injured, it's tough to see the Jets getting to nine wins. Not with the way Mark Sanchez is playing. Not with the inability of the offensive line to protect Sanchez. Not with the team's Week 8 loss to the Miami Dolphins exposing so many weaknesses.
Rex Ryan's team hasn't quite reached the point where it is playing to evaluate the future of the team, but it's not far off. A Week 10 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks would force Ryan to evaluate his team's chances moving forward and if it's better to start playing the youngsters in an attempt to develop and evaluate the franchise's future.
The Cleveland Browns aren't a good enough team right now to win close games, but the talent base is there for Jimmy Haslam's new team to do very well once it gets the right head coach in place. Unfortunately, Pat Shurmur isn't that guy.
You have to like the talent assembled here—even quarterback Brandon Weeden looks like a viable short-term starter—but the coaching decisions are miserable. When you have a back like Trent Richardson, there is no reason to be shy about giving him the ball early and often. Shurmur's play-calling has been abysmal, and at Week 10, it's tough to see him keeping his job long after the season ends.
Whoever takes over in Cleveland next year—David Shaw and Chip Kelly would be my favorite choices—there is good talent with which to get started.
Week 9 wasn't kind to the Oakland Raiders.
For a moment, it looked like they were going to win the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—even with Doug Martin ripping the defense apart for 251 yards rushing. The Raiders were ultimately beaten, as is the case most weeks, by a Carson Palmer turnover.
The Raiders are better than I expected them to be—they looked closer to a three-win team this preseason—but they're still not ready to compete in the AFC West. Once Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen can add talent, they'll be competitive. Getting healthy is a key, as is securing draft classes in a post-Al Davis world.
After a 4-0 start to the season, the Arizona Cardinals are a woeful 4-5. It wouldn't be a surprise if they finished 4-12. The Cardinals are that bad.
It's not just quarterback John Skelton, but he doesn't help matters. The offensive line is the worst in the NFL, and even star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has become a non-factor due to the talent level around him. It's sad to see.
Ken Whisenhunt's rear has to be getting warm, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the head coach looking for work after the season ends. It'll be tough for the staff in Arizona to overcome this current five-game losing streak. Especially if that five-game losing streak grows.
The Tennessee Titans were embarrassed on Sunday. Actually, that may be too kind of a word for the 51-20 beating the Chicago Bears delivered. It's worth noting that seven of those points came against the Chicago JV squad.
Things aren't going well in Tennessee: Jake Locker is hurt; Kenny Britt is either hurt, arrested or ineffective each week; the defense is strong, but youth is resulting in too many mistakes. On Sunday, all of the negatives added up to an epic beating.
The AFC isn't dominant this year, but the Houston Texans are. In the AFC South, the Titans need to win six more games to be considered a wild-card contender. That's unlikely to happen.
The Buffalo Bills didn't win, but Week 9 showed that Chan Gailey's team is willing to fight.
Facing the AFC-leading Houston Texans, the Bills at least kept things close. In the end, a lack of offensive production ruined what was a solid defensive effort. Holding the Texans to 21 points can be considered a moral victory, but that doesn't help Buffalo in the win-loss column.
Buddy Nix has said Gailey doesn't need to worry about his job, but the team does need to start focusing on where it can get better in the offseason. The easy answer is at quarterback, but unlike the 2011 and 2012 draft classes, this year doesn't look top-heavy at the position.
The Bills could have picked the worst possible time to realize they need a quarterback.
The Philadelphia Eagles' season might as well be over. This isn't a team capable of making a second-half run to the playoffs. Unlike the 2011 team that came back from a terrible start to keep things interesting late in the year, the 2012 Eagles are playing with no drive.
Head coach Andy Reid will likely keep his job until the season ends, but after that it's unlikely that the NFL's longest tenured head coach will keep his job. A regime change is coming in Philadelphia, which is a damn good thing. A team with this much talent shouldn't play this bad.
Undisciplined play and bad play-calling add up. So far they've added up to five losses.
When watching the Dallas Cowboys, there are times when it seems like the light has come on, that a talented team will finally live up to expectations and potential. And then it fades away, and we're left watching a talented team that can't find a way to win ballgames.
That responsibility rests on the owner, the head coach, the quarterback and every other player on the field. This isn't just a Jerry Jones problem, even if he is ultimately responsible for all football operations. This isn't just a Jason Garrett or Rob Ryan problem, either. And it's definitely not all on Tony Romo.
Instead, look at the Cowboys' situation as a collective mess, with each level in the hierarchy responsible for its own part in the underachieving nature of this team.
With a 3-5 record, the Cowboys need to find themselves. Otherwise, it'll be another season sitting at home watching the playoffs.
Holy Doug Martin!
The rookie running back took matters into his own hands in Week 9, fueling Tampa Bay to a win with his franchise-record 251 yards rushing. Martin was electric, even as the crowd noise in Oakland started to cause Josh Freeman to fall apart late in the game. The two consecutive delay-of-game penalties on Freeman in the closing minutes were inexcusable, but they also put a dark cloud on an otherwise good day from the quarterback.
Greg Schiano is doing an incredible job with these Buccaneers. It's easy to forget that, pre-Schiano, Tampa had lost 10 straight games. In his first year, and in just nine weeks, Schiano has Tampa playing with an attitude and toughness that was sorely missing under Raheem Morris.
That preseason prediction of mine that the Cincinnati Bengals would win the AFC North looks better and better each week...
Clearly I was off my rocker to think the Bengals could string together two consecutive winning seasons. The preseason lovefest with Andy Dalton and Jay Gruden clouded my better judgement. I'd like to tell you it won't happen again, but I'm young, and it'll probably happen again—as early as this week.
I wasn't the only one high on the Bengals' chances, which means there are more than a few disappointed writers and fans looking at the team's 3-5 record and wondering what went wrong.
Marvin Lewis looked like a genius after the rookie-led Bengals went to the playoffs. Now he looks like a coach who needs to fix his defense and figure out what's wrong with his quarterback.
Seeing the Kansas City Chiefs on your schedule goes a long way to making your season look better. The San Diego Chargers are now 4-4 and very much alive in the AFC playoff race. They can thank the Chiefs for restarting their season.
It wasn't that long ago that we were writing off the Chargers, and I'm still not sold on this team's ability to not fall apart down the stretch. However, there is talent here, and if Norv Turner realizes that his job is finally on the line, who knows what could happen.
The Chargers have a defense good enough to last down the stretch, but that puts the pressure on Philip Rivers and the offense. That's been the weak link on the team this season; as the talent around Rivers has regressed, so has his performance. If the team can't get ahead in the win-loss column and make a playoff run, it's likely Turner and general manager A.J. Smith will be on the unemployed list.
The New Orleans Saints have fought their way back from a terrible start to the season, but at 3-5 they're still on life support.
The return of Joe Vitt as the interim head coach has helped considerably, as has a line-up of weak opponents. Week 10 will ask the Saints to host the undefeated Atlanta Falcons in a game that will either keep the Saints' hopes alive or put the team in an almost unclimbable hole with seven games to go.
The Saints can beat Atlanta—in the NFL anything can happen—but they'll have to play better than they did against the Eagles in Week 9 if they hope to defeat their NFC South rivals.
The Washington Redskins are exciting but too inconsistent for my liking.
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is a treat to watch, but the overall team performance hasn't been much to write home about this season. There are bright spots—Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Alfred Morris—but it's clear that the Redskins aren't yet talented enough to overcome bad weeks.
And Week 9 was a bad week.
The Panthers outdid the Redskins with a bit of their own medicine. Cam Newton made plays, and the defense got to Griffin. That's generally what fuels Washington to a win, but in Week 9, the Redskins couldn't overcome themselves and deliver when it mattered.
A bye week kept the St. Louis Rams from moving this week, and a Week 10 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers might not help matters much either. At least not if you want the Rams to move up.
Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have done a stand-up job rebuilding the Rams in a hurry, but there's still much left to do. The offensive line is a wreck—especially at tackle. The team needs an infusion of talent at wide receiver and safety. There are young players—Daryl Richardson, Michael Brockers, Chris Givens—who need to develop. The Rams are close to contending, but they aren't there yet.
The good news is that Fisher and Brian Schottenheimer are the right answer for the Rams, and with the two coaches in place, the team has improved. And they'll continue to improve.
A banged-up Ryan Tannehill didn't help matters in Week 9, but neither did the fact that the secondary allowed a rookie record for single-game passing yards. Andrew Luck torched Miami for 433 yards passing, exposing the biggest weakness of this team: pass defense.
Tannehill had a very good game, even if overshadowed by Mr. Luck, and he continues to show that Jeff Ireland was right (and I was wrong) to pick the quarterback early in the first round. While Tannehill and Reggie Bush impressed, left tackle Jake Long played surprisingly poorly. The Colts pass-rushers dominated Long—and Dwight Freeney had failed to show up in any previous contests this year.
Miami is still a threat in the AFC wild-card race. A healthy Tannehill will help, as will the lessons learned from a tough loss to an up-and-coming team.
There weren't many people who thought the Indianapolis Colts would win five games all season, and yet here they are after eight games, sitting at 5-3.
The job that Ryan Grigson has done should result in NFL Executive of the Year consideration. Faced with the loss of Peyton Manning and Jim Caldwell, Grigson didn't panic. Instead he stuck true to his draft board, got a little lucky by having the No. 1 overall pick and has built a team around stud quarterback Andrew Luck that looks nothing like last year's two-win team.
You can't say enough good things about Luck, especially after his rookie-record passing day against Miami. With the young quarterback in place, it's easy to see the Colts winning many games they shouldn't. That's been the case early in 2012 and a big reason why the Colts are a playoff contender.
With five wins, the Minnesota Vikings are ahead of schedule in terms of where the general consensus had them when the season began. But with two straight losses, there are questions about how good this team really is and if the right pieces are in place for them to make a run in the NFL's best division.
A 5-2 start to the season—including a win over the San Francisco 49ers—had optimists lining up the Vikings as a playoff team. Now that they're 5-4, things look different. Christian Ponder's hot start to the year has hit a wall, and the second-year quarterback has gone five straight games with at least one interception thrown.
Ponder has to right what's wrong (and soon) if the Vikings hope to find their way to the playoffs in a crowded NFC North.
Would the real Detroit Lions please stand up?
From week to week, I've given up trying to know what the Lions will do. Beating the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn't a surprise, but the individual play of Mikel Leshoure was. Coming off of an injury and a suspension, the running back has been a nice surprise for the team.
If Leshoure can keep up his production, the Lions will be much tougher to stop offensively.
The defense hasn't been great, but it's improving. If the secondary can get its act together, it's not impossible to see the Lions overtaking the Vikings in the division and making a play for the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.
As long as the Seattle Seahawks can play at home, they're going to win a lot of games. Unfortunately, they have to play eight games outside the friendly confines of the Pacific Northwest. It would come as no surprise if the Seahawks finish the season 9-7, thanks to a road win in Carolina.
The home-field advantage helps, but Pete Carroll also has a nice team on his hands. Russell Wilson is playing very well, especially for a third-round draft pick, and the run game is nearly unstoppable with Marshawn Lynch bouncing off tacklers like a pinball. The two combine for a nice one-two punch, and when backed by the league's hardest-hitting secondary, you have a football team that will be very tough to beat in one-game situations.
The Baltimore Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns to extend their record to 6-2, but this wasn't a win to feel good about.
The injuries on defense are hurting the Ravens, undoubtedly, but the offensive play-calling is hurting the entire team. How Cam Cameron can believe that ignoring Ray Rice is the right philosophy for this team is both confusing and infuriating.
Rice is the Ravens' best player and one of the best running backs in the NFL. He should have more of a role in this offense, especially in the first three quarters.
The Ravens are talented enough to win games like this, but letting the Browns hang around like they did—the game was 14-12 Baltimore at the end of the third quarter—isn't the mark of a great team.
You could see a loss coming for the New York Giants over the last three weeks. The offense was productive but inconsistent. The defense would make big plays, but it was giving up too many easy points. It all came to a head against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In true Giants fashion, the game came down to the fourth quarter, but this time Eli Manning couldn't deliver. The Steelers beat the Giants at their own game and, in the process, showed that a tough defense and a mobile quarterback will continue to give the New York Giants trouble.
This is still one of the toughest opponents in the NFL, and once the playoffs start, the Giants have to be considered a favorite, but that doesn't mean they won't hit bumps along the way. That's what happened in Week 9.
The Denver Broncos are hot.
Peyton Manning, Von Miller and Co. are riding a three-game win streak, during which they've established that the AFC West still goes through Denver. With Manning getting stronger, the offense becoming more familiar and the defense as dangerous as ever, the Broncos are the team to beat in their division and, if they keep this up, maybe in the entire AFC.
Manning has been brilliant, but there are still moments when his arm fails him or the wide receiver runs a different route than the quarterback was expecting. In these moments it's easy to get frustrated, but as long as the Broncos can survive their growing pains—and their record says they can—then it's easy to see them making a long run through the postseason.
Three weeks ago, my preseason pick that the Pittsburgh Steelers would miss the playoffs looked brilliant. Three straight wins later, I'm banned from entering the city of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have stepped up, finding a way to win each week and proving in the process that their toughness will carry them far in a weird NFL season. By beating the New York Giants in Week 9, it's clear that the Steelers are for real and that Ben Roethlisberger's team will make a strong run at the AFC North title.
Each week I want to move the Chicago Bears higher in the rankings, but it's much harder to do than it seems. I have loads of respect for a 7-1 team, especially after the whipping they delivered to the Tennessee Titans, but that doesn't mean I can move other teams down to give Chicago a boost.
Currently, Chicago sits behind Atlanta (undefeated), Houston (7-1), San Francisco (most complete team in the NFL), Green Bay (beat Chicago) and New England (Tom Brady, etc). On a neutral field, could Chicago beat any of those teams? Maybe Houston, but it's incredibly tough to move that team down when it continues to win.
The good news for Bears fans is that the team will get its chance to move itself up in Week 10. With the Texans coming to town, the Bears can silence their critics and make a solid case for the NFL's best team.
All they have to do is win. And in my picks this week, I put the Bears in the win column.
A bye week following their trip to London gives the New England Patriots time to rest, but their Week 10 game against the Buffalo Bills won't be easy.
Even if the Bills aren't currently burning up the NFL, it's always interesting when the two teams meet. Earlier this season, way back in Week 4, the Patriots destroyed the Bills in a 52-28 rout. That game was in Buffalo, and both teams will have it on their minds this week as the division rivals prepare to play in Foxborough.
With the NFL's highest-scoring offense, the Patriots once again look like a Super Bowl contender. Winning against Buffalo pushes New England to 6-3, and with the Texans moving to a tough stretch of schedule, the Patriots need to win and keep winning to keep their hopes of the No. 1 seed in the AFC alive.
It hasn't always been pretty, but the Green Bay Packers have won four straight games to revive a season that so many were ready to write off back when the team was 2-3.
The Packers woke up following their loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and since Week 5 they've scored at least 24 points in each game. And each game has been a victory. Aaron Rodgers went from struggling to All-Pro status, and his four touchdowns in Week 9 will go far to give No. 12 a shot at a second straight MVP.
A Week 10 bye gives Green Bay time to rest Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings before the team enters the stretch run of its schedule with an eye on overtaking the Chicago Bears atop the division.
A Week 9 bye results in no change for the San Francisco 49ers. Even if the last showing from San Francisco was a damn good one, there's no basis for a move this week.
Week 10 in San Francisco will be a telling one. The St. Louis Rams aren't a great team, but they do have a tough defense that matches up well against what the 49ers like to do on offense. Stopping St. Louis' offense shouldn't be a problem, but this is a classic trap game, and the 49ers will need to take the St. Louis defense seriously heading into their divisional showdown.
Those who watch the 49ers each week have seen a team capable of dominance, and one sign of that will be handling the Rams in a game they're supposed to win. Coming out of Week 10 with a 7-2 record—and a healthy roster—keeps the 49ers on track to contend for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
The Houston Texans didn't play their best game against the Buffalo Bills, but they did win this week. That's good enough for Houston to remain as the No. 2 overall team, but Week 10 brings a very real test for this team as it heads to Chicago to face the Bears.
The Texans have been poised for a move down for several weeks, but they've managed to keep winning despite some ugly games and even with inside linebacker Brian Cushing out. The Texans continue to be one of the NFL's most balanced, complete teams on a weekly basis. That consistency makes them tough to move down from the No. 2 spot.
They just keep winning.
The Atlanta Falcons have managed an improbable first half of the season, and their 8-0 record puts them two wins away from securing a playoff berth. The play of Matt Ryan and Co. hasn't always been pretty, but it has always been unbeatable.
And since there are no style points in the NFL, fans of the Falcons aren't too concerned with how they win, just that they keep doing it.
You'll see plenty of people saying the Falcons haven't beaten an elite team yet—even though they beat the Denver Broncos. You'll also see people saying they don't trust the Falcons to win in the playoffs—but the playoffs aren't here yet. We're gauging who the best team in the NFL is for Week 10, and that team is the Atlanta Falcons.