For the first time in weeks, we finally have a new No. 1 team atop the power rankings—the Houston Texans. The Texans are a far stronger No. 1 than the Falcons and could potentially hold down the top spot for the remainder of the season.
Out of the top 10 teams in the power rankings, only three played particularly well in week 10—the Texans, Broncos and Ravens.
Week 10 was better at the top for the AFC than the NFC, with the NFC division leaders going winless and every team in the AFC playoff picture winning.
In the playoff hunt, however, the NFC teams in the middle of the pack fared far better than the AFC. The Cowboys, Vikings, Buccaneers, Seahawks and Saints all came through with victories to keep their playoff chances alive. In the AFC, on the other hand, the two teams that appeared to be the Colts' main challengers for the AFC Wild Card, the Dolphins and Chargers, both lost, dropping to 4-5.
1. Houston Texans (8-1)
Despite all the talk this season about the NFC's superiority, the most impressive team thus far has been the Texans. It wasn’t pretty, but the Texans were able to grind out a tough one at Soldier Field last Sunday night.
Had Jay Cutler played more than half the game, the outcome may have been different. However, the Texans still deserve a whole lot of credit, especially considering that they held Cutler to only 40 passing yards knocking him out of the game with a concussion.
2. Atlanta Falcons (8-1)
It’s not surprising that the Falcons are no longer undefeated. They’ve struggled all season long to run the ball effectively, and their defense, while certainly opportunistic, gives up a lot of yards.
With the progress Matt Ryan has made this season I don’t think the Falcons need an above-average running game to make the playoffs. Their defense, on the other hand, is going to have to do a better job, especially against the run. Giving up 148 yards on the ground and 5.1 yards per carry to the Saints, who rank 28th in the league in rushing, is not a good sign.
Despite playing with the lead for the majority of the season, the Falcons defense only ranks 25th against the run.
3. Chicago Bears (7-2)
The Bears are a really good team, but they have one glaring weakness, in my opinion. The reason the Bears started out the season 7-1 was primarily because of two things—they consistently won the turnover battle and generated a lot of points through their defense.
Against the Texans, the Bears lost the turnover battle for only the third time this season. As good as the Bears defense has been at scoring, that’s hardly something you want to have to rely on against a solid team that doesn’t turn the ball over, like the Texans.
With Jay Cutler currently listed as doubtful, I think it’s pretty unlikely that the Bears win Monday night against the 49ers, unless of course Alex Smith is also unable to start. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, however, a league source has reported that Smith is on track to start.
4. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
Coming off the bye, Clay Matthews and Greg Jennings have already been ruled out to play Sunday at Detroit. Jordy Nelson is expected to return, however.
5. Denver Broncos (6-3)
The Broncos are on a roll right now and with San Diego, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Oakland coming up on the schedule, I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon. If the Broncos ultimately turn their four-game win streak into an eight-game win streak, before traveling to Baltimore for week 15, then I’d be surprised if they didn’t get a first-round bye.
Only two of the Broncos remaining seven games are against teams with winning records. With Pittsburgh and Baltimore beating each other up and Houston and San Francisco looming on New England’s schedule, the Broncos have as solid a shot as anyone for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
6. Baltimore Ravens (7-2)
The Ravens actually looked like a contender rather than just an average team with a good record in their 55-20 thrashing of the Raiders. Prior to their big win, the Ravens hadn’t played that well since week 3 against the Patriots.
The defense still looked surprisingly vulnerable and likely will for the remainder of the season, but Joe Flacco stepped up with his best game of the season since Week 1.
As long as the Ravens have only one win by a single point against another winning team, however, I won’t be anywhere near sold on them.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
A tie is not what the 49ers were looking for against the Rams, and the game wasn’t close just because of Alex Smith’s injury. The 49ers have uncharacteristically given up a 100-yard rusher in three out of their last four games.
Not only did Steven Jackson have his first 100-yard game of the season, but Sam Bradford also had a surprisingly solid game. The 49ers cannot contend for a Super Bowl without being consistently dominant on defense.
8. New England Patriots (6-3)
Things were closer than expected at home against the Bills, but that will happen with a pass defense like the Patriots have.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
The Steelers continued their 2012 trend of playing down to their competition on Monday night against the Chiefs. Can they beat the Ravens on Sunday night without Ben Roethlisberger?
It’s possible, because the Steelers should be able to hold the Ravens in check offensively and Joe Flacco rarely lights it up two games in a row. I just don’t know how much the Steelers can do offensively without Roethlisberger. Byron Leftwich is a capable and experienced backup, but there’s a reason he hasn’t been a starter in years.
The Steelers must find a way to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers on the outside—Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. If Leftwich can work the short-passing game effectively and Wallace and Brown can make some long runs after the catch, they have a chance.
10. New York Giants (6-4)
In classic Giants fashion, they are collapsing in November. What’s behind the slump this time? For starters, Eli Manning has one touchdown and six interceptions in his last four starts. Their bye week couldn’t come at a better time before they have to play the Packers week 12 on Sunday night.
11. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Over the past four weeks Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 456 yards and three touchdowns. That's beast mode.
With games remaining against the Bears and 49ers, the Seahawks schedule down the stretch is no cake walk, but I think they’ll make it as the final NFC Wild Card. Right now the Seahawks are tied for the spot with the Vikings, but hold the advantage in the tie breaker due to their week 9 head-to-head win.
12. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
If the Colts can manage to win just three out of their remaining seven games to take their record to 9-7, I expect that they will make the playoffs.
They still have to play at New England next week and twice against the Texans, but winning three out of seven is still really not asking for too much. Also working in the Colts' favor as far as the playoff picture goes is that I don’t think anyone has any clue as to who will emerge to challenge them for the final Wild Card spot.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4)
Right next to the Colts, the Bucs are the NFL’s most improved team this season. As crazy as it may sound, Josh Freeman leads the league in yards per attempt at 8.27.
The Bucs gave up a ton of yards through the air (337) to Phillip Rivers as expected, but they still found a way to win thanks in large part to a blocked punt and interception return, both for touchdowns.
14. New Orleans Saints (4-5)
As long as they can find a way to win in Oakland Sunday, the Saints will be a .500 football team.
Whether the Saints make the playoffs this season, they deserve some credit for not letting their season fall apart after all the distractions and their disastrous start. If they were just in the AFC, they’d probably be a playoff team.
15. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
Adrian Peterson may look like he’s back in his 2008-09 form, but the truth is he’s had this in him all along. The difference this season is that Christian Ponder, while he doesn’t throw for a lot of yards, has proven himself to be enough of a threat that defenses can no longer solely focus on stopping Peterson the way they have in years past.
Peterson has been on an absolute tear in his last four games, rushing for 629 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 7.7 yards per carry. After a stretch like that, there’s no doubt that Peterson’s reaffirmed himself as the best running back in football.
The Vikings have an absolutely brutal schedule down the stretch, with two games each against the Vikings and Packers and a week 16 road test at Houston. I’d be shocked if they still made the playoffs.
16. Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
The Cowboys are still alive after a huge win in Philadelphia. Their schedule the rest of the way is pretty favorable, so don’t count them out of the NFC East just yet with the Giants sliding.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (4-5)
Like the Cowboys, the Bengals absolutely needed a win in week 10 and came through in the clutch.
Something tells me that their win was more a result of the Giants playing poorly than anything else. If the Bengals can get on a roll however, they could emerge as the top challenger to the Colts for the final AFC Wild Card spot.
18. Detroit Lions (4-5)
I think it’s safe to say at this point that the Lions are basically out of it.
I thought they were going to be able to stay alive and defeat the Vikings, but they’re just not strong enough to compete in the NFC North this season.
19. San Diego Chargers (4-5)
With Denver, Baltimore and Pittsburgh coming up on the schedule over the next four weeks, the Chargers are, in all likelihood, out of playoff contention as well. Norv Turner’s stress level looked like it was through the roof during his postgame media tirade following the Tampa Bay loss.
I don’t blame him.
20. Miami Dolphins (4-5)
Ryan Tannehill looked like a rookie out there against the Titans.
If the Dolphins had beaten the Titans, they would be my favorite to contend with the Colts for an AFC Wild Card. They really blew it by falling behind so early and having to abandon the run.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)
The situation has turned from bad to worse in Philadelphia. I don’t care how banged up their offensive line is, or how tough their schedule has been up to this point, there’s just no excuse for a team as talented as the Eagles to be sitting at 3-6, tied for last in the NFC East.
As someone that personally likes Andy Reid, it pains me to say this, but he needs to be fired at the end of this season. It would be different if this Eagles season didn’t seem eerily similar to the last, but it does and a change is needed at the top.
As for Michael Vick, I think a lot of his struggles this season can be attributed to injuries along the offensive line. Until a better option comes along I think he’s the best bet at quarterback the Eagles have.
22. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
A road game in Atlanta should take the Cardinals out of playoff contention for good, but they’ve really been out of it for a while, in my opinion.
23. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
Talk about inconsistent—the Titans go from being blown out by the Bears 51-20 to blowing out the Dolphins 37-3. The Titans really are a hard team to figure out. If they hadn’t gotten off to such a slow start, they would be in solid position to contend for an AFC Wild Card spot.
24. St. Louis Rams (3-5-1)
The Rams deserve a lot of credit for fighting hard for a tie in San Francisco.
Last season this wouldn’t have happened. I like that they stuck to the run against the 49ers tough front seven, rushing for 157 yards on 37 carries. When you’re playing a team that’s better than you, shortening the game usually pays off.
25. Washington Redskins (3-6)
It will be interesting to see who comes out on top when the Redskins visit the Eagles Sunday. I can honestly say I have no idea.
The Redskins have the opportunity to play spoiler in the NFC East, with five of their final seven games against divisional opponents.
26. Buffalo Bills (3-6)
No matter how well they play, the Bills always find a way to lose at Gillette Stadium. Buffalo’s 35 first downs set a franchise record for both teams—the most ever in a single game by Buffalo and the most ever given up in a single game by New England. Yet it still wasn’t enough thanks to a Devin McCourty interception with 23 seconds left in the Patriots end zone.
27. Carolina Panthers (2-7)
Cam Newton hasn’t had a completion percentage above 60 percent since week 4. During that same span, he has thrown only four touchdowns and five picks.
Everyone knew the Panthers defense still had a lot of holes coming into the season, but I don’t think anyone expected Newton to regress the way he has.
28. Oakland Raiders (3-6)
The Raiders have given up 97 points in the last two games, and now they have to play the Saints.
29. New York Jets (3-6)
The Jets locker room is a disgrace. Supporting Mark Sanchez is one thing, but calling out the backup quarterback as being “terrible” to the media when your team is 3-6 is completely inexcusable.
Tebow doesn’t get to see the field much and therefore doesn’t share much of the blame for the Jets losing record. Ironically, the players that are actually to blame are probably a lot of the same ones that anonymously insulted Tebow to the media.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that Mark Sanchez is clearly not the answer for the Jets at quarterback. Maybe Tebow isn’t either, but what do the Jets really have to lose by giving him a shot?
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
It wouldn’t shock me if the Browns upset the Cowboys Sunday. Dallas tends to play down to their competition and the Browns have managed to keep the majority of their games at least close this season.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8)
The Chiefs, as pathetic as they are, still have enough talent on their roster to give a team like the Steelers a good game. The Jaguars don’t have enough talent, which is why the Chiefs deserve the nod.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
Without a doubt, the Jaguars are worse than the Colts were last season.
They currently rank 31st in passing, 30th in rushing, 23rd in rush defense and 29th in pass defense. It just doesn’t get much more pathetic than that. It’s a miracle they even won a single game.