NFL Power Rankings: Teams That Are Biggest Threats to Perennial Contenders
This is the part of the NFL season where we find out the most about every team.
Who is going to be in it until the end? Who is going to fade? Who is going to stick around longer than anyone expected?
All of these questions will be answered, but let's focus on the last one for now. It's easy to pick out perennial contenders from the mix, but what about the other guys?
Let's power rank the NFL from top to bottom, focusing a bit more on three teams that are the most dangerous to the hopes of regular contenders.
1. Houston Texans
Houston isn't a perennial contender, but this is too easy. After an ugly win over the Chicago Bears, this squad isn't about to go anywhere.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Even though they fell the the New Orleans Saints, the one-loss Falcons still have enough offense to beat any team in any game.
3. Chicago Bears
As long as Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and company are playing defense, this team is never out of the hunt.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Alex Smith is concussed, but this team still has a punishing ground game plus the defense to go with it. Don't sleep on this squad, with or without Smith behind center.
5. Denver Broncos
As long as Peyton Manning keeps playing the way he has been and the Broncos' defense continues playing well, don't be surprised if Denver finishes with 12 or 13 wins.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore is a perennial contender and is definitely dangerous again this year. If Joe Flacco can translate Sunday's play into consistent performances, look out.
7. New England Patriots
The Patriots define perennial contender, and it's no different this year. New England isn't infallible like it's been in the past, but this team is still a force to be reckoned with.
8. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is playing excellent football, making Green Bay the NFC's most dangerous squad.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger sprained his shoulder versus the Kansas City Chiefs Monday night (via NFL.com reporter Gregg Rosenthal), putting a major damper on Pittsburgh's hopes. It's too early to consider this team on the fringe, though, until we know how long Big Ben is out.
10. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are an absolute threat to the powers that be, at least as long as Andrew Luck is healthy behind center.
Luck has brought this team back with a vengeance. He's commanding the pocket and forcing teams to respect him, which eases the responsibility of the team's other units. Add in solid production from Donald Brown and Vick Ballard, and the Colts have a dangerous offense.
Indianapolis is currently 6-3. It's unlikely that the Colts catch Houston, but never say never. With the way Luck is playing, anything is possible at this point.
It all comes down to the defense. While it defends the pass quite well, rushing yards can be had. If that can be controlled, other teams should be scared of this team down the stretch.
11. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is having an MVP-type season, but there's something about this team that I don't like. Christian Ponder struggles at times, leaving the offense one-dimensional and crippled at times.
12. Seattle Seahawks
Because of Marshawn Lynch and the defense, this team is very dangerous. With wild-card spots wide open in the NFC, don't sleep on this group.
Lynch is a 100-yard threat every time he steps on the field. This allows Russell Wilson to play comfortably, relying on him to carry the bulk of the production on offense. When he needs to throw it, though, Sidney Rice has been very good at times this season.
Defensively, the Seahawks are excellent. The secondary is among the league's most aggressive, and the front seven forces teams to put the ball in the air by stuffing the run.
CenturyLink Field also provides one of the NFL's best home-field advantages, which helps.
Teams have already learned this the hard way, but don't sleep on Seattle.
13. New York Giants
For one, the Giants are normally contenders. For two, New York is heading the wrong way right now. Both disqualify them from this conversation.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wait two or three more years, and this team will be even more dangerous. However, that doesn't mean the Buccaneers aren't scary now.
Josh Freeman has been much better this season, and that's due in no small part to Doug Martin's presence in the backfield. Adding to Freeman's comfort level is new No. 1 wideout Vincent Jackson and perfect No. 2 Mike Williams.
Tampa Bay must cut down on the number of big plays it surrenders through the air, but the run defense is stellar. At least this give the team something to lean on in that area.
This team is more dangerous to me than any other in ways. The Bucs are capable of losing every week, but if they put it all together, they're talented enough to beat anyone.
Give this team a few years to really hit its stride, but it's a major threat right now too.
15. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans has been a contender in recent years, but it's also peaking at the right time. As winners of four of their last five games, the Saints are a scary team right now.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas would be dangerous if Jason Garrett wasn't on the sidelines, Jerry Jones wasn't calling the shots and Tony Romo wasn't behind center. Too bad for them, those are pretty important posts.
17. Miami Dolphins
If this had gone up a few weeks ago, Miami would have been dangerous. Now, though, the Dolphins are just another team that's another year away.
18. Arizona Cardinals
Same story as the Dolphins. After a 4-0 start, the Cardinals seemed pretty scary. Then the NFL realized that they have no offense whatsoever.
19. Philadelphia Eagles
The only team that should consider the Eagles dangerous is the Eagles.
20. San Diego Chargers
See the Eagles above. San Diego hasn't been able to get out of its own way since Norv Turner took over, and that hasn't changed this season.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Until Andy Dalton gets a run game to complement his passing attack, this is just a third-place team in one of the NFL's best divisions.
22. St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher has this defense playing better, but no one should consider Sam Bradford's passing offense very dangerous. This team is almost there, but not quite.
23. Detroit Lions
This team has one dimension, albeit a talented one. Without an element to complement the pass game, this team will dwell at the bottom of the ultra-competitive NFC North.
24. Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III is as dangerous as it gets, but the rest of this team hangs on the brink. Don't expect the Redskins to threaten anyone until they shore up their pass defense.
25. New York Jets
The Jets want you to believe that they're scary, but they aren't. Mark Sanchez still struggles, and there's very little support for the beleaguered quarterback.
26. Buffalo Bills
C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are dangerous to everyone's run defense. However, the rest of this team is not scary at all.
27. Tennessee Titans
There's no doubt that this team is more dangerous with Jake Locker running the show, but this team still has too many holes to fill on defense. Chris Johnson is back to form, though.
28. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are only dangerous to themselves and the souls of their fans, consistently letting both down.
29. Cleveland Browns
Dangerous as a playoff team? No. Dangerous to anyone who overlooks the NFL's youngest team? Yeah, sure, as long as the wide receivers decide to catch the ball before running.
30. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton makes me want to say that the Panthers are dangerous, but they're not. He's deflated this season, leaving the team with nowhere else to turn.
31. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs played the best game of their season Monday night, but still turned the ball over to lose the game. No, no, they're not dangerous.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Until Jacksonville learns to play offense or defense, two pretty important elements of football, no one will consider these guys to be dangerous.
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