It isn't easy to make a big push up the power rankings over the last third of the season, but there are several teams poised to do just that. Some of the higher-ranked teams are entering the meat of their games while other teams have most of their top competition out of the way.
Granted, teams still need to play the games and must win the ones they feel they should. But so long as the trends from the first 10-plus weeks continue there will be some movers in the coming weeks.
Current records tell a big part of the story, but expectations down the stretch were considered with these rankings.
1. Houston Texans (8-1)
This team is going to be difficult to beat. They are near the top of the league in points scored and allowed.
The Texans have a balanced offensive attack and defend the run and the pass well. It is rare to find a team that balanced on both sides of the ball.
The Indianapolis Colts have two shots at them this season to demonstrate where they stand relative to the elite AFC teams.
2. Denver Broncos (6-3)
This is the first of my teams that will soar down the stretch. Is it too soon to have the Broncos second, though?
Perhaps, but this team will finish the season with at least 11 wins. Why bother slowly inching them up the rankings instead of putting them where they belong based on their recent play.
Manning has gelled with the offense and the defense is improving. This is a team to be feared come playoff time.
Denver has two teams left on the schedule with a winning record (Baltimore and Tampa Bay). This team is much better than the unit that lost to the Falcons.
3. Atlanta Falcons (8-1)
I'm not completely sold the Falcons should be this high. They won their first eight games, but only one of those teams has a winning record.
Atlanta had some tight games against so-so teams (Oakland, Carolina and Washington), two of which were at home. The problem is they only have three games remaining against winning teams.
4. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
The Packers had a wake-up call against the Colts and responded. They've won four consecutive games and Aaron Rodgers has looked like a player that doesn't want to relinquish his MVP status.
Mr. Discount Double-Check has 15 touchdowns and just one interception since his last loss. He has 22 and three, respectively, since his lone game without a touchdown pass in Week 3.
5. Baltimore Ravens (7-2)
I thought we would see the Ravens stumble with their injury issues, but it hasn't happened. Their pending showdown with the Steelers could end up being a dud, as Ben Roethlisberger isn't expected to be available.
The schedule has turned favorable until they host the Broncos in Week 15.
6. Chicago Bears (7-2)
The Bears have some work to do in the coming seven weeks. They may have to start a tough run without Jay Cutler as they visit the 49ers.
Chicago will also host Seattle and Green Bay while playing the Vikings twice over the next five games. If the Bears can emerge from that run in first place of the NFC North they will have earned a lot of respect.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
Some analysts felt the 49ers were a team without issues. But the armor is looking a bit dinged after losing to the Giants and settling for a tie against the Rams at home.
The tie isn't the end of the world, but if things get close in the NFC West it will matter. The 49ers had the tiebreaker advantage over the Seahawks, but last week's game erased that advantage.
8. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
I have the Seahawks higher than several of the other six-win teams because they've beaten most of them. Seattle has three home games in the month of December and road trips to Miami and Toronto to face the Bills.
I've consistently slated this as a 10-win team but the young core is coming together. Russell Wilson believes they can beat any team out there and they can...at home. If they could figure out how to win on the road the Seahawks would be dangerous.
9. New England Patriots (6-3)
The Patriots get to settle spots nine and 10 on Sunday when they face the Colts. Close games against the Jets and Bills have some believing the Pats are vulnerable, but I disagree. They will be ready for the playoffs.
10. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
It has been an amazing season for Andrew Luck and the Colts. They will take a step back on Sunday, but with Buffalo, Detroit, Tennessee and Kansas City remaining on the schedule they'll stick around and challenge for a playoff spot.
11. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
It is difficult to predict what to expect from the Vikings. The loss in Seattle was expected, especially after the egg the prior Thursday night against Tampa Bay.
The Vikings responded against the Lions, though, giving fans reason to believe this is still a playoff team.
Hold on to your horns; it should be a wild ride with two shots at Green Bay and Chicago coming up.
12. Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
Not quite as blatant as Denver, but here is another team I pushed up my rankings. I wanted to avoid the pain of moving them up a spot or two after every win. Just rip that band-aid off...
To answer your question, no, I can't believe it, either. But Dallas has weathered the tough part of the schedule and the Giants have just looked bad as of late. Both of these teams could end up at nine or 10 wins.
13. New York Giants (6-4)
I'm not certain what happened to the team that throttled the 49ers in San Francisco but they haven't been seen since. Eli Manning has one touchdown and six interceptions since that game and hasn't eclipsed a passer rating of 80.
The Giants are getting the bye week at a good time, but come out with Green Bay, an improving New Orleans Saints and Atlanta in their next four games. This team could be at 7-7 and looking up at the Dallas Cowboys.
14. New Orleans Saints (4-5)
Hard to believe 10 wins are possible for a team that started out so poorly (0-4). If the defense continues to improve they could get there, but nine seems more realistic.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4)
I really struggled to decide between Tampa Bay and New Orleans for 14, but the Saints won the two teams' first matchup back in Week 7.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
I would have the Steelers higher than this but life took a bad turn. I don't believe this team can win without Ben Roethlisberger.
I've discussed the Steelers dropping off this season but nobody wants to see it happen like this. If the dire diagnosis ends up with a quicker recovery then Pittsburgh will jump back up the rankings.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said he does not believe his rib injury is season ending but he is unsure when he'll play again.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 14, 2012
17. Cincinnati Bengals (4-5)
The Bengals need another win before I'm ready to believe they are back on track. Well, aside from Kansas City next week or the Raiders after that. If they can win both of those games and then beat San Diego or Dallas, then I'll believe they can contend for the postseason.
18. Buffalo Bills (4-6)
The Bills and Dolphins entered Thursday night's game trying to snap out of a losing streak. The Bills did and have a favorable schedule ahead.
They get three straight home games against Jacksonville, St. Louis and Seattle. With the way the Seahawks struggle on the road the Bills could get to 7-7, with Miami and the Jets in the way of a winning record.
19. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
Jake Locker might have breathed a little life into the Titans last weekend but that likely had more to do with Miami struggling right now. That, and the impostor that was wearing No. 28 was apprehended and the real running back is in the lineup again.
20. Detroit Lions (4-5)
It is hard to figure out who the Lions are as a football team. They can move the ball almost at will through the air against an elite defense one week but self-implode in another.
They are entering a very tough stretch of games and fans will likely see their playoff aspirations wither.
21. St. Louis Rams (3-5-1)
Life gets difficult for the Rams after they host the Jets this weekend. They have four games against teams with winning records and trips to Buffalo and Arizona on the schedule.
22. Washington Redskins (3-6)
The Redskins' strong start has fizzled but there is still time for them to make a run. The problem is the schedule doesn't look favorable.
23. San Diego Chargers (4-5)
So much talent and so few results. Can the Chargers make a stretch run? With Denver and Baltimore up next I'm guessing not.
24. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
As much as I liked the players the Cardinals grabbed in the draft, their inability to spend in free agency meant they needed to grab offensive linemen early.
25. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
Don't look now, but the Dolphins have gone from contender to train wreck. Their 4-3 record has fallen to 4-6 with the Seahawks, Patriots and 49ers coming up.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)
Andy Reid has had a difficult year. I have to wonder if he and the team would have been better off with him taking a leave of absence.
27. Oakland Raiders (3-6)
I've tried to support the idea that the Raiders can surprise a few teams. It hasn't worked. The loss of Darren McFadden doesn't help, but their issues go well beyond one position.
28. Carolina Panthers (2-7)
The Panthers have had opportunities to win games but haven't been able to convert them. Cam Newton can help this team down the stretch if he can find some confidence.
Carolina has Philadelphia and Kansas City coming up after they host Tampa Bay.
29. New York Jets (3-6)
How bad are things in New York? Fans are ready to riot to get Tim Tebow into the lineup.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
The good news is the Browns should get a complete makeover in the front office come January. The team needs an infusion of winners, as they don't have the confidence to pull out close games.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
I will continue to say "I told you so" about Blaine Gabbert until he's no longer a starter or he actually has a receiver to throw to and proves me wrong. With their best offensive player, Maurice Jones-Drew, out of the lineup, the Jags' odds of winning go way down.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7)
The Chiefs don't have a decent quarterback and the coaches don't know how to use the players that are talented. I also cringe every time I see Dwayne Bowe drop a pass after hearing him talk about wanting to be paid like Larry Fitzgerald.
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.
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