The list of legitimate NFL title contenders keeps looking shorter and shorter.
After six intense weeks of football, only the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs have advanced without suffering a defeat, and even those clubs have displayed some shortcomings to watch going forward.
A mere 12 of 32 teams boast records above .500, showing a ferocious struggle to claw to the cream of the crop. There will come a point in these rankings where a reader will view a severely flawed team rated in the top 15 and think, "Really, them?" before looking at the lackluster bunch below them.
Truth be told, a cloud of uncertainty still looms over most NFL squads. Before we could prep for a week of hyping the Indianapolis Colts heading into their reunion with Peyton Manning, they squandered much of their good will by falling to the San Diego Chargers on Monday night.
One week changes a whole lot during the first half of the season. Let's see how the pile looks now with Week 6 behind us.
1. Denver Broncos (6-0)
Despite surrendering the most passing yards per game (337.7), Denver takes the top spot after only mustering 35 points on a measly two Peyton Manning passing touchdowns to remain undefeated. Getting Von Miller back from his six-game suspension should help the defense at least return to a semi-respectable level, not that it matters much when the offense scores 44.2 points per game.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-0)
After sacking Terrelle Pryor 10 times on Sunday, the Chiefs enhanced their team total to a league-leading 31. The Baltimore Ravens rank second with 22. It will be tough for Alex Smith to keep up with Manning or Tom Brady in a playoff bout, but Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe could give those prestigious passers fits in the pocket to make it awfully interesting.
3. Seattle Seahawks (5-1)
After defeating an underrated Tennessee squad in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 20-13 score suggests, Seattle's next six opponents hold a combined eight victories, none boasting a record above .500. Capitalizing on that favorable schedule could be the difference between gaining home-field advantage throughout the postseason and playing a postseason game in the Superdome.
4. New Orleans Saints (5-1)
The unwritten rule of power rankings states that a team drops down the list when falling to a foe with a matching record. But with the 11th-ranked defense and more impressive victories over the then-healthy Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears, the Saints' full body of work is still more impressive than the New England Patriots' resume. If losing at New England at the last second in Brady's third try is what it takes to bring them down, so be it.
5. New England Patriots (5-1)
New England badly needed this victory after a brutal offensive showing in Week 5's loss against the Cincinnati Bengals. While Brady did not deliver his finest performance before his late-game magic, the defense limited Drew Brees to a season-low 236 passing yards, his lowest tally since last November.
6. San Francisco 49ers (4-2)
We're already reaching with no other five- or six-win teams left to choose from. Since their two-week debacle, the 49ers have scored more than 30 points in three straight victories. Colin Kaepernick, who has hardly looked the part of a Super Bowl quarterback with a 55.9 completion percentage, surpassed 200 passing yards for the first time since Week 1.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)
The Bengals are weird. They limited Brady and Aaron Rodgers to a combined 441 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in victories, looking like a major player in the process. They have also allowed 485 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to Brian Hoyer's Cleveland Browns and an overtime win against Thad Lewis' Buffalo Bills.
8. Green Bay Packers (3-2)
While the Packers can't catch a break on the injury front, at least their schedule will ease up. Out of all their remaining opponents, only NFC North rivals in the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears sport records above .500. Let's see just how much adversity Aaron Rodgers can overcome after losing Randall Cobb for six to eight weeks with a fractured fibula, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunne.
9. Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
Yes, the Colts have achieved two substantial victories over the 49ers and Seahawks, but they have also fallen to the average Chargers and Miami Dolphins while playing the Oakland Raiders close. They can quickly sell out seats on the bandwagon again with a win over Denver, but it was ugly watching the offense fail to score a touchdown against the AFC's worst defense.
10. Detroit Lions (4-2)
Beating Cleveland may not seem all that special, but Matthew Stafford compiled 248 yards and four passing touchdowns with a banged-up Calvin Johnson against the league's eighth-best passing defense. The Lions' rushing defense, however, is a major concern with 124.8 yards allowed per game.
11. Chicago Bears (4-2)
On one hand, it's great that the notoriously ball-hawking Bears have already manufactured 17 takeaways this season. On the other hand, a defense that yields 373 total yards per game will look weak if it can't sustain that turnover rate.
12. Baltimore Ravens (3-3)
Much like Cincinnati, Baltimore's season can be best summed up with a large shrug admitting defeat. The defense has allowed 16 points per game since Manning scored seven touchdowns on it in Week 1, but Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are each averaging a meager 2.8 yards per carry for a stuttering rushing offense.
13. Miami Dolphins (3-2)
While the Dolphins rank 27th with 287.6 passing yards allowed per game, they've also had the misfortune of playing Brees, Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan. If Miami wants to avoid fumbling away its 3-0 starts, Ryan Tannehill needs to stop fumbling the ball. He's already coughed it up four times in five games.
14. Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
So nobody appreciated Tony Romo's 506-yard, five-touchdown performance of a lifetime because it came with one interception, but tossing 170 yards and a touchdown with a pick is fine since he got help from Dwayne Harris and a passing defense that showed up and didn't allow 51 points. Judging an NFL quarterback by his team's record is just as flawed as evaluating an MLB pitcher by his win-loss mark.
15. Tennessee Titans (3-3)
Poor Ryan Fitzpatrick was forced into action just in time to deal with the Chiefs and Seahawks, so nobody can blame the Titans for losing both games in single-digit affairs. The last thing this bland offense needs is another stout foe, but San Francisco is coming this weekend.
16. San Diego Chargers (3-3)
Sending out Nick Novak for a 50-yard field goal with two minutes left rather than allowing the offense to take a few steps forward on 4th-and-inches was a risky gambit for first-year head coach Mike McCoy, but it paid off in a surprising Monday night win. Ryan Mathews recorded his first 100-yard rushing performance since Dec. 11, 2011 to fuel a balanced San Diego offense to victory in its majestic powder blues.
17. St. Louis Rams (3-3)
The Rams still can't stop the run, but at least they can now inflict some damage of their own on the ground. Zac Stacy has emerged as their No. 1 back, gaining 79 yards on 18 carries in a stunning 38-13 stomping over the Houston Texans.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
The Eagles are tied with the Cowboys for first place after two straight victories, but both came against the NFC's lone winless squads. They also allowed 273 yards and two touchdowns to Mike Glennon, so that secondary is a big problem.
19. Arizona Cardinals (3-3)
Andre Ellington has averaged 7.0 yards per carry for Arizona this season. Rashard Mendenhall has averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Ellington receives less handoffs than Mendenhall. I'm confused.
20. Carolina Panthers (2-3)
Carolina sports the NFL's sixth-best point differential after clobbering the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings by a combined 63 points. If only its passing offense didn't look so awful in the other three games.
21. Cleveland Browns (3-3)
Since returning from a two-game suspension, Josh Gordon has already caught 25 passes for 429 yards and two touchdowns this season. Imagine if the dynamic wideout started Week 1 and had a quarterback better than Brandon Weeden throwing him the ball.
22. New York Jets (3-3)
Behind the inconsistent Geno Smith, the Jets look great at times and downright awful on other weeks. Facing New England, Cincinnati and New Orleans during the next three weeks should flush away any hopes of playoff contention.
23. Buffalo Bills (2-4)
Buffalo now has a pretty overtime loss to match its two-point opening loss to New England. Its two-headed rushing attack in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson helps in games, but a depleted secondary still missing Jairus Byrd has prevented the club from achieving much more than close defeats.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)
After failing to secure any takeaways during their 0-4 start, the Steelers collected two interceptions in a 19-6 win over the Jets. A secondary with Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu is too potent to keep away from the ball forever, so expect Pittsburgh to force more turnovers and play better football going forward.
25. Atlanta Falcons (1-4)
A highly intriguing test awaits Matt Ryan. The Falcons can't run much without Steven Jackson, the passing defense is dreadful, and top target Julio Jones is gone for the season while Roddy White still stubbornly tries to play at nowhere near full health. Can Ryan prevent the team from sinking?
26. Houston Texans (2-4)
Houston fans who cheered Matt Schaub's injury aren't just cold, heartless, sorry excuses for people; they're also dumb for thinking T.J. Yates puts the team in a better position to win. While Schaub has averaged just 6.66 yards per pass with nine interceptions (including an incredibly unlucky four pick-sixes), Yates didn't fare much better with 5.77 yards per attempt and a long pick-six of his own to continue the unlikely trend.
27. Oakland Raiders (2-4)
Oakland has allowed 19 points per game when not facing the Broncos. Then again, if we're giving them the benefit of the doubt, we also might need to erase its nine points allowed against the Jacksonville Jaguars to even the score.
28. Washington Redskins (1-4)
While the offense has not run as smoothly as last year's attack with a more mobile Robert Griffin III, Washington still ranks fourth with 399.2 total offensive yards per game. It's the defense letting the squad down with 395 yards surrendered per contest.
29. Minnesota Vikings (1-4)
Matt Cassel dared the Vikings to give Josh Freeman a shot after averaging 5.48 yards per attempt in an ugly loss to the Panthers. But it doesn't matter who is under center if the defense keeps giving up 418 total yards per game.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5)
Coming off a sensational rookie campaign, Doug Martin has compiled just 409 rushing yards on a disappointing 3.5 yards per carry. That's what happens when the league's worst passing offense offers the sophomore no relief from defenses swarming the box.
31. New York Giants (0-6)
On the bright side, 31-year-old Brandon Jacobs showed a pep in his step with 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Chicago Bears. The down side is everything else from the Giants' season so far.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
Call a 16-point loss to Denver a moral victory all you want, but the Jaguars are still an 0-6 team with the league's worst offense and rushing defense that has dropped every game by double digits. Playing Denver close for a half isn't enough to save them from the bottom spot.
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