Now that every NFL team has played at least half of its games, the separation between the true contenders and pretenders can really be felt.
Sample sizes are so small in this league that it can be difficult to figure out what is real and what is fake until you are two or three months into the regular season. Fortunately this season fell on the short end of that projection, though it was certainly not for lack of effort.
As we approach Week 10, here is a latest look at the Power Rankings and a closer examination of the biggest movers—either positive or negative—in the NFL right now.
1. Atlanta Falcons (8-0)
I hesitate to call them the best team in the league because they don't often win with style, but it is hard to argue with a perfect record and an offense that features Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White.
2. Chicago Bears (7-1)
Another team that tends to baffle just because of the way they are winning, with a lot of turnovers and non-offensive touchdowns, doesn't seem conducive to long-term success. Until someone beats them, it is hard to bet against the Chicago Bears.
Considering their next two games are against Houston and San Francisco, we are going to find out just how good these Bears really are.
3. Houston Texans (7-1)
No surprise here, as the Texans have been hovering at or near the top of the rankings all season.
4. San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
There have been moments where the 49ers have shown some cracks in the defensive armor this season, yet when this team is on, it is hard to find many teams who can beat them.
5. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
I, rather stupidly, felt that the Packers were going to be a middle-of-the-road team this season just because their defense wasn't doing much in September and early-October to inspire confidence.
It is time for me to eat crow and take my punishment. Aaron Rodgers is playing like a man possessed, with 15 touchdowns and just one interception during the team's four-game winning streak.
While I still don't trust them to get a big stop in a close game, if they are putting up nearly 32 points per game the rest of the season (which is what they are averaging during this winning streak), the defense won't have to do much.
6. New York Giants (6-3)
If you want to see overreactions, just follow the Giants during the regular season. They lost the opener to Dallas and they were in trouble. They dominated the 49ers in San Francisco and were the best team in the NFL again. They lost to Pittsburgh and are suddenly in trouble again. Let's calm down a bit, because they will be fine.
7. Denver Broncos (5-3)
Preaching patience, especially to NFL fans, is hard to do. There are only 16 regular season games, so they need to see instant results. Even as the Broncos were stuck with a brutal schedule to start the season, there never should have been any panic coming from the Rockies.
Now, with Peyton Manning playing at an MVP-level once again and the Broncos hitting their stride on both sides of the ball, this looks like one of the best teams in the AFC.
8. New England Patriots (5-3)
9. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
Despite having the second-best record in the AFC, you can't help but feel like the walls are going to close in on the Ravens at some point. Their defense is giving up over 385 yards per game, and Joe Flacco is capable of a meltdown each week.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last week's win against the Giants, in which the Steelers ran for 158 yards and held Eli Manning to just 125 passing yards, was a huge statement that this team is not going anywhere.
11. Seattle Seahawks (5-4)
If the Seahawks could just figure out a way to win on the road (1-4), they would be challenging the 49ers for the NFC West title. Instead, it appears they will have to scratch and claw to stay in the wild card chase.
Still, the future is incredibly bright for this team with a dominant defense and a good rookie quarterback that no one is talking about because there are two other, higher-profile rookie quarterbacks right now.
12. Detroit Lions (4-4)
Reports of the Lions' demise have been greatly exaggerated. Their four losses have come by a total of 22 points. Their offense still hasn't hit its peak yet—seriously, how does Calvin Johnson have just one touchdown catch?—but the defense is starting to show signs of life.
13. Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
While we should not buy completely into the hype surrounding this team—they have beaten Cleveland, Tennessee and Miami during this three-game winning streak—it is nice to see a young, talented team find itself faster than expected.
Talk of a serious playoff push is a little premature, though they do have a winnable game against Jacksonville this weekend. Ultimately, though, games at New England, at Detroit and two against Houston will be too much for the Colts to stay in the race.
14. New Orleans Saints (3-5)
While present record should account for something, in good conscience it is hard to put the Saints below teams with a better record that they should have no problem beating up on. Does anyone really think San Diego, Minnesota or Arizona are better than the Saints?
A playoff push seems highly improbable because of the hole this team dug for itself right out of the gate, not to mention a defense that couldn't stop me and a group of 10 guys I picked up on the streets, but that offense is scary.
They are slowly creeping back up the rankings. Games against Atlanta (twice), San Francisco and the Giants over the next five weeks will seal their fate, one way or another.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4)
Doug Martin's incredible performance, as well as Josh Freeman's ability to pick apart weak defenses, actually make the Bucs far more watchable this season than they were at any point in 2011.
16. Minnesota Vikings (5-4)
All those weeks of talking about Christian Ponder being an efficient quarterback don't look so smart right now. He has thrown for less than 65 yards in two of the last three games, and all eight of his interceptions have come in the last five weeks.
The Vikings are lucky to have Adrian Peterson ripping the league apart, or else they would be much farther down this list. Until they find some kind of consistency at quarterback, a .500 record will be the best the Vikings can hope to achieve.
17. Miami Dolphins (4-4)
While there have been some bright spots for the Dolphins this season, that secondary is still very much a work in progress.
18. Dallas Cowboys (3-5)
It would be easy to sell this team down the river, though if you look at the list of teams they have lost to (Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore, New York and Atlanta) without taking performance into context, things don't seem that bad.
With seven of their last eight games against losing teams, a playoff run isn't completely out of the question.
19. San Diego Chargers (4-4)
The Chargers can't play in cold weather at all, as evidenced by their dreadful showing against Cleveland two weeks ago. Games at Denver, at Pittsburgh and at New York (Jets) will force them to win at least once in a cold weather stadium or win all their remaining west coast games to have a shot at the playoffs.
Given the hot-and-cold nature of this team, you can't predict any kind of winning streak.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)
The Eagles are a lot like the Cowboys, which is going to make fans in both cities cringe, but it doesn't make it less true: All the talent in the world and no idea how to use it.
Andy Reid's time in Philadelphia is coming to an end, in all likelihood. His coaching style doesn't do enough to utilize the best playmaker the team has (LeSean McCoy), and he leaves Michael Vick in empty-backfield sets to get his head taken off.
At least Philadelphia still has the Flyers...oh, wait. At least there are the 76ers...oh, wait. When does baseball season start?
21. Washington Redskins (3-6)
Robert Griffin III is already a superstar. Alfred Morris has been great out of the backfield. Unfortunately, you need a defense that can get a stop, or an offense like Green Bay's, to win in the NFL.
The Redskins aren't there yet, but the future is looking brighter every day for this proud and storied franchise.
22. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)
Andy Dalton has thrown at least one interception in every game this season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. The team has lost four straight games. At least they still have A.J. Green, or else this team would be completely irrelevant.
23. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
Remember when the Cardinals were the best story in the NFL at 4-0 and ready to compete for a playoff spot? Neither do we.
The song remains the same for this team. Until they find a quarterback at least capable of not embarrassing himself, and an offensive line good enough to block every now and then, the Cardinals' struggles will continue.
24. New York Jets (3-5)
Things could get a little better in the coming weeks, as the Jets play St. Louis, Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Buffalo. Who knows, they might be able to salvage an 8-8 season if they can take care of business in those games.
25. Oakland Raiders (3-5)
What do you really say about the Raiders at this point? Their offense is terrible. They have no running game—Darren McFadden is only averaging 3.3 yards per carry—and Carson Palmer throws the ball to the other team with more frequency than his own wide receivers.
The defense just got torched for 251 yards and four touchdowns by a rookie running back. There is still no sense of direction with this franchise, which will keep them wallowing at the bottom of the pack for a long time.
26. St. Louis Rams (3-5)
The Rams have taken about 12 steps back following their 3-2 start. They lost a close game against Miami before getting blown out against Green Bay and New England. At least they had the comfort of a bye week to lick their wounds.
Of course, as we say that, a game at San Francisco against one of the most vicious defenses in the NFL looms this weekend. But hey, at least the Jets and Cardinals give them a two-week respite before another game against the 49ers.
Maybe the return of Danny Amendola will give the offense the spark it has been missing in recent weeks.
27. Buffalo Bills (3-5)
The Bills might be the worst spending team in the NFL. They spent a lot of money to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick based on a few good games at the start of last season, then used $100 million to lure Mario Williams and his 4.5 sacks to town.
Granted, Williams was regarded as one of the top defensive players in the NFL prior to signing with the Bills, but still, you hope to see a little more effort and motivation out of a guy who got such a big contract.
28. Carolina Panthers (2-6)
See, when you put out a suggestion box, good things do happen. Now if the Panthers can just find a way to harness all that talent over a sustained period of time, they would be all set.
29. Tennessee Titans (3-6)
Instead of giving fans the finger, Titans owner Bud Adams is just threatening to take action against the entire organization after a blowout loss against Chicago.
My question to Mr. Adams: How good did you really expect this team to be?
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
You can say this for the Browns: They aren't going to win a lot of games, but they have rarely embarrassed themselves this season. You have to find the positives wherever you can, I guess.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)
A primetime game on a short week in Indianapolis on Thursday night probably isn't going to help the Jaguars figure out how to solve Andrew Luck.
They aren't moving much one way or the other in the rankings, which does mean that they are playing up to expectations. Unfortunately, those expectations were already pretty low.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7)
How does a 1-7 team that is 29th in the NFL in points per game begin to figure itself out? A Monday night game in Pittsburgh against the top-ranked Steelers defense should do the trick. Or not.
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