The NFL is a difficult thing to figure out.
Just when things seemingly fall into place, the NFL throws fans for a loop. This was absolutely the case last week when the Denver Broncos earned their first loss against the Indianapolis Colts, which is not exactly what many expected from Peyton Manning's return home.
Alas, here we are with a shuffled league hierarchy once more. Here's how things stand with a critical slate of games on the horizon in Week 8.
1. New Orleans Saints (5-1)
Outside of a loss to the New England Patriots on a last-second touchdown, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are the NFL's best team.
The Saints have an elite offense with Brees under center, but the new defense in place under Rob Ryan ranks No. 12 in the league and places plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and forces quality turnover opportunities.
As far as complete packages go, it does not get any better than the team in New Orleans.
2. Denver Broncos (6-1)
Peyton Manning and Co. finally lost a game when Manning made his return home last weekend, but there is no way to justify dropping Denver any lower.
Simply put, an offense that averages well over 40 points per game with Manning at the helm will be in every contest. It would be great if Manning's run game, which only gave him 64 yards of support, would step up. But the defense will be healthy at some point, and Von Miller will get back in the swing of things.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-0)
It's hard to call a victory a bump in the road, but Kansas City's win over Houston last week was not exactly convincing.
The vaunted Chiefs defense allowed youngster Case Keenum to throw for 271 yards and a touchdown in a one-point victory. For whatever reason, the Chiefs coaching staff did not elect to blitz heavy against the inexperienced Keenum until late in the game.
While undefeated, Kansas City has plenty of work to do.
4. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
What more can be said about the Indianapolis Colts? Andrew Luck and Co. are legit, although it would be nice to see some consistency.
While the Colts regularly show up against quality opposition, the team has faltered against lesser teams. This works in the playoffs, but to actually get to that point, the Colts will need to show up against every opponent—not just the great ones.
5. Seattle Seahawks (6-1)
The Seattle Seahawks have the look of a Super Bowl team.
No team has won the week after facing the Seahawks, which means they are simply beating the tar out of the opposition—win or lose.
As expected, Seattle has no issues rushing the passer. The lone blemish on the record means little at this point, especially for a team that is vastly similar to the one that started off slowly before torching the opposition with point totals in the 50s a year ago.
6. Green Bay Packers (4-2)
Look at Green Bay go.
Despite injuries to James Jones and Randall Cobb—not to mention a neck injury that may place Jermichael Finley on the shelf for the rest of the year, per ESPN's Ed Werder—Aaron Rodgers keeps finding ways to win games.
The hero this time was receiver Jarrett Boykin and his over 100 yards and a score, further proving there are very few teams in the NFL that have what it takes to slow Green Bay.
7. San Francisco 49ers (5-2)
San Francisco is on a four-game winning streak, and that won't be ending anytime soon with a matchup against Jacksonville next week.
The matchup is great news considering Colin Kaepernick continues to struggle in the passing game and the secondary allowed Jake Locker to go for over 300 yards last week.
A tuneup game may be just what the doctor ordered.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has now thrown for over 300 yards in two consecutive games, but there is reason for concern on the defensive side of things.
The Bengals allowed Matthew Stafford to throw for over 300 yards, which marks the first time the defense has allowed that total in 20 contests. Despite 51 attempts from Stafford, the elite Cincinnati offensive line failed to record a sack.
Add in the loss of star corner Leon Hall for the season, per ESPN's Coley Harvey, and the Bengals will be truly tested in the coming weeks.
9. New England Patriots (5-2)
Panic time in New England?
The Patriots have now lost two of their last three, and Tom Brady has failed to throw a touchdown pass in two out of three. Rob Gronkowski returned last week and played well, but it's clearly going to be a while before the team is firing on all cylinders.
10. Chicago Bears (4-3)
It's absolutely panic time in Chicago.
Not only did the Bears lose to the Washington Redskins last week, but starting quarterback Jay Cutler also went down and will miss four weeks, per ESPN:
BREAKING: Jay Cutler will be out at least 4 weeks with a muscle tear in his groin.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) October 21, 2013
There's a lot to like in Chicago, but the upcoming schedule is in no way kind, as a matchup against Green Bay is on the horizon.
11. Detroit Lions (4-3)
The Detroit Lions are one of the better teams in the NFL, but a horrible secondary is going to cost the team plenty of games.
Matthew Stafford and Co. can score with any team in the league, but a defense that surrenders just as many points is a dangerous way to live.
12. Buffalo Bills (3-4)
Buffalo is inching toward getting starting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel back in the fold.
That said, backup Thad Lewis is not doing too shabby either, with 202 total yards a week ago in a major divisional win over the Miami Dolphins.
The Bills are hanging around thanks to a stellar defense. That's all fans can really ask for from a team missing its quarterback.
13. New York Jets (4-3)
The New York Jets are legit.
Quarterback Geno Smith is not playing like a rookie, and the result is a 4-3 record and two contests this year in which the Jets have looked good against the New England Patriots.
The defense in New York is something to behold (as expected from a member of the Ryan family tree), and the explosive unit held Tom Brady without a touchdown pass last week.
New York is playing power football, as it held on to the football for over 46 minutes last week. That's difficult to beat.
14. San Diego Chargers (4-3)
We want to say it is impressive that the San Diego Chargers notched a win on a short week over the Jacksonville Jaguars just days after a win over Indianapolis on Monday Night Football, but it's not.
The Chargers defense continues to disappoint, and it allowed Chad Henne to throw for over 300 yards. The unit needs to improve, or the Chargers will be stuck around .500. Philip Rivers cannot do it all on his own.
15. Dallas Cowboys (4-3)
Check it out. Dallas held Chip Kelly's high-flying offense to just three points last week in a major win.
Except not really. Backup quarterback Nick Foles was awful before leaving the game with an injury. That would also explain why star back LeSean McCoy was limited to 55 yards at 3.1 per rush—an impressive feat with an actual quarterback under center.
Either way, it was a huge win for the Cowboys, a team sure to contend in the playoffs this year thanks to a guy by the name of Dez.
16. Baltimore Ravens (3-4)
The defending champs are reeling, and it's going to take one solid swing for Baltimore to meet the canvas.
Offensive woes continue to plague the Ravens. Joe Flacco is playing mediocre ball, and Ray Rice has been even worse, as evidenced by his torrid 45 rushing yards last week.
Now, Baltimore gets Cleveland and Cincinnati next. One AFC North rival could serve up a knockout blow.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Things were horrific for Philadelphia last week without Michael Vick, but it sounds as if he will be available this week against a laughably bad New York Giants secondary (to everyone except Josh Freeman), per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Michael Vick was a full participant in Wednesday's practice per the #Eagles injury report.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) October 23, 2013
Just in time, too. There is enough talent on the Eagles offense to run with any team. Clearly, that is only made possible with Vick at the helm.
18. Miami Dolphins (3-3)
While the Jets and the Bills continue to impress in the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins do nothing but prove they are not playoff contenders.
The Dolphins have now dropped three straight, highlighted by a loss last week to a Buffalo team starting its backup quarterback despite an extra week to prepare courtesy of a bye.
Yeah, the fish are fried.
19. Cleveland Browns (3-4)
Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden made life difficult for the Browns last week in the team's contest with Green Bay, as he stumbled around for just 149 yards and a touchdown and interception.
The result? Weeden is out of a job, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
And so Jason Campbell will start Sunday for the Browns. Brandon Weeden, anyone?— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 23, 2013
It's a much-needed move for a team with an outstanding defense that needed just a little help from its offense to win games this year. That won't be happening, as the shot-callers have all eyes set on 2014.
20. Atlanta Falcons (2-4)
While that's great, the Falcons are still 2-4, and they beat up on a team yet to record a mark in the win column.
If Atlanta wants to somehow creep back into a division led by our No. 1 team on this list, health is key. The execution is clearly there.
21. St. Louis Rams (3-4)
2014 preparation is in full swing in St. Louis now that injury has ended quarterback Sam Bradford's season, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Rams officially signed QBs Austin Davis and Brady Quinn and placed QB Sam Bradford on “Reserve-Injured”.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 23, 2013
With all due respect to the above names, St. Louis is not going to win many games the rest of the way. Rookie Zac Stacy has been a nice surprise at running back, but outside of that, St. Louis has quickly turned into a football wasteland.
Hey, there's always baseball.
22. Oakland Raiders (2-4)
Terrelle Pryor was just what the doctor ordered in Oakland, but he cannot do it all on his own.
The team around Pryor is so bad that he leads it in rushing. He's also getting sacked at a ludicrous pace, so sooner or later the organization should concern itself with the chance of an injury.
Pryor has made it so the Raiders do not have to select a quarterback in the 2014 draft, but he has to last that long.
23. Tennessee Titans (3-4)
Where in the world is Chris Johnson?
CJ2K managed just 39 rushing yards against San Francisco last week, ruining the return of quarterback Jake Locker, who threw for over 300 yards and two scores in a stellar effort.
The Titans quietly have an extremely talented young roster, but everything has yet to click consistently. That needs to change in a hurry.
24. Houston Texans (2-5)
The 2013 season is over for the Houston Texans.
Inexperienced quarterback Case Keenum got the start for Houston last week and threw for 271 yards and a touchdown in a one-point loss to the NFL's last undefeated team. Keenum was also sacked five times and lost a fumble.
Things are blurry in Houston as far as the future goes, but one thing is abundantly clear: 2013 is over.
25. Arizona Cardinals (3-4)
Carson Palmer is a liability in the turnover department, but it's hard to place all the blame on him after he was sacked a ridiculous seven times last week.
Look, Palmer is as immobile as a statue in the pocket, but that's outrageous. On the other side of the football, a decent defense could be elite had it not lost coordinator Ray Horton in the offseason.
Palmer and Co. can stay in games, but against contenders, it's over. We've seen that in consecutive weeks against San Francisco and Seattle.
26. Carolina Panthers (3-3)
It's a well-kept secret, but sooner or later the general public will understand that one of the NFL's best defenses resides in Carolina.
In fact, the Panthers tout the league's No. 3 overall defense thanks to a stout front seven led by linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Offensively, Cam Newton could use some support, but he's been on fire the past few weeks and went 15-of-17 last week for a big win over St. Louis. Carolina is a tough out for any team.
27. Washington Redskins (2-4)
The feel-good vibes in Washington won't last very long when an angry Peyton Manning welcomes the Redskins to town.
Robert Griffin III and Co. won't have it easy like they did in Week 7 thanks to Jay Cutler's injury. While the game with the Broncos could turn into a shootout, the Washington defense all but guarantees the Redskins need 30 points to stand a chance at winning any game.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4)
Pittsburgh has allowed 22 points in its last two games and rides rookie back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 93 yards in a major win over Baltimore last week, in what is a classic formula.
As seems to be the case every year, the Steelers have figured out they are not a pass-happy team and need to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
With that perennial lesson out of the way, anything is possible for the Steelers.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-6)
Things continue to deteriorate in Tampa Bay.
As if the way Greg Schiano has handled a number of things was not enough, star running back Doug Martin may be lost for the year with a torn labrum—although the team is simply listing him out for the next game for now, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
The #Bucs officially declare RB Doug Martin as OUT for tomorrow's game given his torn labrum. Still unclear on his status this season tho— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 23, 2013
Tampa Bay will win a few games with Mike Glennon via an amazing Vincent Jackson performance, but that's about it.
30. New York Giants (1-6)
Sorry, but a win in one of the ugliest games ever played does not mean a jump in the rankings. New York relies on a running back like Peyton Hillis for its efficiency on the ground, Jason Pierre-Paul is non-existent, and Eli Manning has regressed.
31. Minnesota Vikings (1-4)
Minnesota has this guy by the name of Adrian Peterson, but the Vikings chose to throw the ball 53 times in Josh Freeman's debut with the team.
Makes perfect sense. After all, it's a by-the-book strategy for an organization that has no idea what it's doing.
Time to clean house.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-7)
Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts won't allow the Jacksonville Jaguars to hang around the bottom much longer. Both are extremely talented players, and Chad Henne is capable enough against the right opponent.
Perhaps more interesting is whether the Jaguars will start selling talent at the trade deadline.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling