As expected, the contenders have finally started to separate from the pretenders after a first half that seen an abnormal amount of parity throughout the league. Fans are now starting to get a good look at where their favorite team stands in the playoff race.
The other storyline to watch during the season's second half is which teams rise to the occasion. Will the new wave of elite teams (Texans, Falcons) hold their ground or will the usual suspects (Patriots, Packers) take their place atop the conferences?
Only time will tell, but we can examine where every team sits heading into Week 11. Let's take a look at a fresh batch of power rankings with a closer examination of a few interesting teams.
1. Houston Texans (8-1)
Even though the Texans have made a strong case for the league's most complete team, they really need a second weapon to emerge in the passing game behind Andre Johnson.
2. Atlanta Falcons (8-1)
Michael Turner gained just 15 yards on 13 carries against a porous Saints run defense last week. The Falcons need him to start making more plays to balance the offense. Other than that, they are in great shape.
3. Baltimore Ravens (7-2)
The Ravens are a perfect example of how much experience can help a team. They aren't the most talented squad in the NFL, but their record proves how dangerous they are anyway.
4. New England Patriots (6-3)
New England survived a late scare from the Bills and are now in firm control of the AFC East. Bill Belichick must find a way to improve the pass defense before playoff time, though.
5. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
It's amazing how far the Packers have come since their 2-3 start. They will also have a lot of upside once players like Jordy Nelson and Cedric Benson are able to make their returns.
6. Chicago Bears (7-2)
The only losses Chicago has suffered came against the Packers and Texans. But can the Bears continue to win if the turnovers stop coming at such an extreme rate? The answer will decide their season.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
Tying the Rams coming out of their bye isn't the ideal scenario for the 49ers, but their defense ensures they are going to remain a contender in the NFC as the postseason approaches.
8. Denver Broncos (6-3)
Peyton Manning has rediscovered his MVP form, Brandon Stokley has turned back the clock and the Broncos defense is improving on a weekly basis. They won't get overlooked for much longer.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
Pittsburgh's ability to shut down opposing passing attacks gives the Steelers a major advantage in today's NFL. Injuries on offense are threatening to derail a promising season, however.
10. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Andrew Luck has helped lead the Colts to an unexpectedly terrific start and now the team has its sights set on the playoffs. It's important to note, however, that only one of the team's six victories came against strong competition (Packers).
The schedule is going to get tough down the stretch starting on Sunday against the Patriots. The Colts also have two games against the Texans and a road trip to face the Lions. If they make the playoffs, they will have earned their spot.
One area that needs to improve is run defense, as it has been for around a decade in Indianapolis. The Colts are giving up more than 120 yards per game on the ground, and that will come back to haunt them against top-tier opponents.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4)
The Buccaneers have won four out of their last five thanks to improved play from Josh Freeman and Doug Martin as well as a stout run defense. They are an intriguing team to watch down the stretch.
12. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Marshawn Lynch deserves some attention in the MVP debate if he can lead the Seahawks to the playoffs despite having so few weapons around him. He's already over 1,000 yards for the season.
13. New York Giants (6-4)
Just when it seemed like the Giants were going to run away with the NFC East title, they have fallen back to the pack. Given their recent title seasons, they wouldn't have it any other way.
14. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
Minnesota's coaching staff should spend the team's entire bye week stressing consistency. The Vikings have shown glimpses of playoff ability, but not enough yet to have confidence they can keep it up.
15. New Orleans Saints (4-5)
The Saints have slowly worked their way back into the playoff race and have a favorable schedule down the stretch. It's impossible to count them out despite a sub-.500 record so far.
16. San Diego Chargers (4-5)
Yet again one of the league's most disappointing teams, the Chargers need to show some fight down the stretch to make a playoff charge. Norv Turner should be firmly on the hot seat by now.
17. Detroit Lions (4-5)
Having a high-powered passing attack will keep the Lions in a lot of games, but the other areas must improve for them to live up to the preseason hype. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson need help.
18. Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
The Cowboys are back in business after beating the Eagles last week in what amounted to an elimination game in the NFC East. They have another game they should win this week against Cleveland, which would get them back to .500 and in the race.
DeMarco Murray remains sidelined with a foot injury, which is holding the offense back. If Dallas can get him back soon, the Cowboys should become a lot more potent on that side of the ball and it would drastically increase their chances of digging out of an early hole.
While Murray continues to heal, the onus remains on Tony Romo and the defense to lead the charge. DeMarcus Ware has been especially impressive with nine sacks, putting him on pace for another huge season in that category.
19. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
While the Titans have some nice building blocks for the future, they lack the depth necessary to keep pace in the AFC. At least Chris Johnson's resurgence has been a sign of hope.
20. St. Louis Rams (4-5-1)
It will be interesting to see how the young Rams handle a manageable second-half schedule after a confidence-boosting tie with the 49ers. They are certainly worth keeping an eye on.
21. Miami Dolphins (4-5)
The Dolphins need a win on Thursday night against the Bills in order to consider themselves true playoff contenders. It will take a major effort to bounce back that quickly from a blowout loss to the Titans.
22. Cincinnati Bengals (4-5)
Beating the Giants is nice, but the Bengals will have to start showing that level of play on a weekly basis before the bandwagon fills back up to its preseason levels.
23. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
Arizona has completely fallen apart after a terrific start, illustrating why it's always dangerous to overreact to the first month of the season when teams are still rounding into form.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)
The Eagles are nowhere near where fans expected them to be by this point in the season. Even though the blame has been placed on Michael Vick, there's more than enough of it to go around.
25. Washington Redskins (3-6)
Robert Griffin III has shined but, a lot like Cam Newton's Panthers last season, there just isn't enough talent around him to win a lot of games quite yet.
26. New York Jets (3-6)
The raging debate about who should start at quarterback has overshadowed the team's other major issues. New York's defense is getting torched on the ground to the tune of 145 yards per game and the team's own lead back, Shonn Greene, continues to struggle.
Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow can't fix those problems. The discussion about those two is simply a major distraction, which the Jets should have seen coming when they decided to bring in Tebow during the offseason.
While injuries to key players like Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes haven't help the Jets' cause, ultimately they need to make some major changes on offense before the results improve. They just aren't good enough on that side of the ball right now.
27. Oakland Raiders (3-6)
It would be interesting to see how the Raiders offense would perform if the unit could stay healthy for an entire season. They have a lot of potential on that side of the ball, but injuries have been an issue.
28. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
Although the Browns have seven losses, only one of them was in blowout fashion. They have been able to keep games close, so it all comes down to winning those tight games.
29. Buffalo Bills (3-6)
It sounds crazy, but the Bills could run the table thanks to a schedule that gets much easier starting this week. But they haven't given fans any reason to believe that's a realistic outcome.
30. Carolina Panthers (2-7)
The Panthers aren't as bad as their record would suggest. They rank in the middle of the pack in most of the major categories but inexperience has led to losses in a lot of close games.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
Jacksonville has a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball. It's going to take time before they can even start thinking about the playoffs again, but at least they have a dedicated owner to see it through.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8)
It's hard to believe the Chiefs were actually a popular playoff pick before the season. Nothing came together correctly and it's been a slippery slope to the bottom of the league.
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