The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winners of three of four games in impressive offensive style, represent one of the teams on the rise in our Week 10 NFL power rankings.
In beating the Oakland Raiders 42-32 Sunday, the Bucs not only scored 28 or more points for the fourth-straight week, but also pulled their record back to .500 in an ultra-competitive NFC playoff race. A disappointing 1-3 start can be made a distant memory if Tampa Bay continues playing well, especially on the offensive side of the football.
Here's the rest of our power rankings following Week 9, with the teams on the rise highlighted:
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7, Last Week: 32)
This is a really bad football team that might need changes at general manager, head coach and quarterback.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7, 31)
All that positive momentum Jacksonville built on the road in Green Bay was wiped out with another uninspired beatdown at home.
30. Tennessee Titans (3-6, 25)
Owner Bud Adams rightfully told the Tennessean Sunday that all aspects of his football team—front office, coaches, players—were essentially playing for their jobs over the last seven games of the season.
29. Cleveland Browns (2-7, 29)
The Browns can't settle for five chip-shot field goals from Phil Dawson and expect to snap a now 10-game losing streak to Joe Flacco's Ravens.
28. New Orleans Saints (2-5, 28)*
The Saints play Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.
27. Carolina Panthers (2-6, 30)
Cam Newton wasn't sensational, but he outplayed rookie Robert Griffin at his place to snap a five-game losing streak. And wouldn't you know it, the Panthers actually ran the ball well with both DeAngelo Williams (six carries, 37 yards, touchdowns) and Jonathan Stewart (10-51). I'm sure there's no correlation there. Panthers move up three spots.
26. St. Louis Rams (3-5, 27)
The Rams had a bye in Week 9.
25. New York Jets (3-5, 26)
The Jets had a bye in Week 9.
24. Buffalo Bills (3-5, 23)
Few expected the Bills to go into Houston and leave with a win. But with games against AFC playoff contenders coming up (Patriots, Dolphins, Colts in consecutive weeks), Buffalo's 2012 season is hanging in the balance.
23. Washington Redskins (3-6, 20)
The Redskins moving up three spots is more by default than anything. Washington likely wasn't built for a playoff run in 2012, but the wheels are starting to come off this train.
22. Oakland Raiders (3-5, 22)
When the Raiders defense is bad, it's really, really bad. Oakland has already allowed 400 or more yards four times this season, and Sunday was the second time a team went for 500 or more.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5, 19)
The Bengals will have to get hot soon, as the second half schedule offers no favors. The Giants, Chargers, Cowboys, Eagles, Steelers and Ravens represent six of the final eight games for Cincinnati.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4, 21)*
The Eagles play Monday night against the Saints.
19. Dallas Cowboys (3-5, 16)
Close, but yet so far away. Is there a better or more efficient way to describe the Dallas Cowboys under Tony Romo and Jason Garrett?
18. Arizona Cardinals (4-5, 15)
The bye week comes at the right time for Arizona, who lost its fifth game in a row and is beat up injury-wise. However, the week off might be too late for the Cardinals to re-discover the 4-0 magic.
17. San Diego Chargers (4-4, 24)
Jobs were likely saved—at least momentarily—during the Chargers' romp over the Chiefs Thursday night. San Diego got a seven-spot bump because of it. Norv Turner's new goal this week? Keep the ball rolling against better competition. Over the next five weeks, San Diego faces Tampa Bay, Denver, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The result of that five-game stretch just might decide whether Turner is back in 2013 or looking for new NFL employment.
16. Minnesota Vikings (5-4, 12)
Christian Ponder has now thrown for less than 100 yards in two of the last three weeks. That's unacceptable production, and it won't quiet any of the calls for a quarterback change in Minnesota.
15. Miami Dolphins (4-4, 11)
A difficult loss for Miami, who could have really made a statement by starting 5-3. But you simply won't win many games in this age of football allowing 433 passing yards and registering just one sack.
14. Detroit Lions (4-4, 17)
Here come the Lions? At 4-4, Detroit has reintroduced itself to the playoff party in the NFC's second half. The more encouraging news from Sunday, however, was the returned production of Calvin Johnson (seven catches, 129 yards) and the running game pulling its own weight (149 yards, four touchdowns). This is still a talented football team capable of making a second-half run. Detroit is up three spots.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4, 18)
When did the Buccaneers (up five spots) transform into the NFL's best offense? Consider the last four games for Tampa Bay: 144 points (36/game), 1,907 yards (476.8/game) and, most importantly, a 3-1 record. Quarterback Josh Freeman (11 touchdowns over last four games), running back Doug Martin (739 total yards and seven touchdowns, including 272 and four Sunday) and receivers Vincent Jackson (406, four touchdowns) and Mike Williams (285 yards, three touchdowns) all lead the way for the game's most explosive offense over the last month. There's no reason why the offense shouldn't continue rolling over the next two weeks (San Diego, Carolina) either.
12. Seattle Seahawks (5-4, 14)
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III rightfully receive mountains of media acclaim, but Russell Wilson has quietly put together a strong rookie season in the Pacific Northwest with 13 touchdown passes and five wins.
11. Indianapolis Colts (5-3, 13)
Andrew Luck needs just one more 300-yard passing game to break Peyton Manning's record for such games in a rookie season. He's got half a season to do it. Luck would certainly tell you that the Colts current playoff position (No. 5 seed in the AFC if season ended today) is a million times more important.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3, 10)
Tough situation for both teams in the Meadowlands Sunday, but credit the Steelers for overcoming their own obstacles and winning a road game against a really good football team.
9. Green Bay Packers (6-3, 9)
No team in the NFL needs the bye week quite like the Packers do in Week 10. Green Bay is beat up across the board, and Sunday's 31-17 win over the Cardinals didn't help. Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga each ended up on the sidelines with injuries.
8. Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 8)
The Ravens need not apologize for a hard-fought win over the Browns. Including Sunday, six of the last seven games between Baltimore and Cleveland have been within 10 points.
7. Denver Broncos (5-3, 7)
Peyton Manning threw two picks, and his streak of 300-yard games ended at five. But the Broncos picked up another win in a trendy upset game, ensuring they'd keep a one-game lead over the Chargers in the AFC West.
Who is the best team in the NFL after nine weeks?
6. New England Patriots (5-3, 6)
The Patriots had a bye in Week 9.
5. San Francisco 49ers (6-2, 4)
The 49ers had a bye in Week 9.
4. New York Giants (6-3, 3)
The Giants won't blame Hurricane Sandy for Sunday's loss, but there's no doubting it played a factor. Football players are creatures of habit, and when you mess with those habits, outcomes change. Eli Manning (125 yards, interception) played his worst game of the 2012 season.
3. Chicago Bears (7-1, 5)
There's no more holding the Bears back from the top three of these rankings. We saw in Sunday's 51-20 romp in Tennessee exactly what can happen if the offense, defense and special teams come together during a given week. Jay Cutler threw three scores to Brandon Marshall, the Bears scored their seventh and eighth non-offensive touchdown and Devin Hester nearly found paydirt on a punt return. The Bears are no fluke.
2. Houston Texans (7-1, 2)
The 21-9 scoreline doesn't catch the eye, but the Texans were once again efficient offensively and defensively. 100 yards from both Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, two scores from Matt Schaub and a defense that stopped the Bills on nine of 11 third-down conversions. Balance remains the name of the game in Houston.
1. Atlanta Falcons (8-0, 1)
Can't argue with 8-0. At the halfway point, the Falcons—whether some wins have been ugly or not—are perfect.