NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Where Each Team Stands Entering Sunday

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NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Where Each Team Stands Entering Sunday
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Having the right quarterback is critical to the success of an NFL franchise, and in this edition of power rankings entering Sunday's Week 8 action, that assertion is as evident as ever.

The more stable the situation under center is—and the more ideal the schematic fit is with regard to the signal-caller's skill set—the better off teams are.

Other elements play a factor, such as 2013 season resumes, the entire defensive side of the ball and a myriad of other factors. However, some teams have seen a significant fluctuation in stock based on their respective QB situations.

That will be the primary focus of the teams analyzed in greater depth, but let's take a look at where all 32 clubs stand as the midway point of the year approaches.

 

1. Kansas City Chiefs (7-0)

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Thanks to the presence of a bona fide star in Jamaal Charles at running back and a magnificent defense, new QB Alex Smith hasn't had to do too much.

Relying on defense and the other dimension of the offense is something Smith is familiar with from his days in San Francisco. It's helped Kansas City lead the league in turnover margin. Under the guidance of head coach Andy Reid, Smith is thriving in a West Coast system where quick, smart decisions are the norm.

The Chiefs did beat the Texans by only one point last week, but a matchup with Cleveland looms. As long as Smith takes cares of the ball as he has all year, Kansas City should roll to 8-0 at Arrowhead Stadium.

 

2. Seattle Seahawks (6-1)

The circumstances in Seattle are similar for second-year signal caller Russell Wilson as they are for Smith: an elite-level defense and a fantastic running back in Marshawn Lynch.

Except it's different, because Wilson has superior arm talent, mobility and playmaking ability in general, while Lynch is more of a bruiser compared to the speedier, shiftier Charles.

This team's physicality and enthusiastic play in all phases of the game makes the Seahawks one of the more compelling squads to watch in the NFL. A Monday night NFC West battle in St. Louis is on tap, where a ferocious secondary will feast on Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens.

 

3. Denver Broncos (6-1)

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Putting points on the board is something Denver doesn't need to worry about under the guidance of living legend Peyton Manning. The pass defense, though, is a legitimate concern, yielding just under 320 yards per contest.

One could argue that the Broncos have the best run defense, but that's because opponents have to throw so often to keep up with Manning and Co.

It remains to be seen the level of impact star pass-rusher Von Miller will have as he acclimates to the gridiron. The Broncos have at least done well in winning six games without him.

Manning has been the reason. After a loss to his former team in Indianapolis, it's time to get back on track in Week 8. Otherwise, the Broncos may find themselves suddenly two games behind in the AFC West.

 

4. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)

2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck is living up to the hype—and no, it has nothing to do with the presence of running back Trent Richardson giving the offense more balance.

Luck got minimal production from his rushing attack, yet he largely outplayed his Colts predecessor in another marquee victory in Week 7. He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions while trailing Richardson in rushing yards just 37-29.

One of the only bad throws of the night came in the fourth quarter, though, and it cost star receiver Reggie Wayne his season due to a torn ACL.

So even though Luck is the real deal and the Colts have beaten both the Seahawks and Broncos, their outlook without Wayne is ominous. Indianapolis' fate falls on Luck even more moving forward.

 

5. New Orleans Saints (5-1)

Drew Brees is a Saint in more ways than one for New Orleans' football, but even he could only watch as elite counterpart Tom Brady engineered a last-second touchdown drive to hand the Saints their first loss of the year in Week 6.

A bye week to lick that wound and extra time to prepare for the Buffalo Bills should see Brees thrive in an epic performance at home in the Superdome.

What was the league's worst defense in 2012 has improved in a big way under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but Brees holds everything together with his consistent brilliance.

 

6. San Francisco 49ers (5-2)

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Ever since Colin Kaepernick took the starting quarterback reins from Alex Smith, the Niners have been in a bit of an identity crisis. Kaepernick is so dynamic with his arm and legs that it becomes difficult to force him into being a game manager.

That is the strategy San Francisco has implemented into the game plan in recent weeks, though, and it's yielded winning results.

After an unprecedented stretch of consecutive losses under Jim Harbaugh, all is right in Niner nation. A road trip to London to face Jacksonville will not knock this bunch off course, and Kaepernick should continue to thrive after running for 68 yards and a touchdown last week.

 

7. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)

As much as he benefits from chucking the ball up to superstar wideout A.J. Green, Andy Dalton has shown progress in Year 3.

The Red Rifle has played well in the midst of the Bengals' three-game winning streak, and he hit on 24-of-34 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 win over Detroit in Week 7.

If that level of play is maintained, the sky is the limit for this Cincinnati team, which has a commanding lead in the AFC North. However, it's a big "if," and a big test versus the Jets looms on Sunday in Paul Brown Stadium.

 

8. New England Patriots (5-2)

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Without Brady's "Tom Terrific" magic acts, it's doubtful the Pats would even be above .500. A misfit cast of receivers and two key season-ending injuries on defense threaten to derail New England's season at any moment. Sunday's 30-27 overtime defeat to the New York Jets marked a sad milestone:

In spite of all that, the two fixtures in Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have approached the halfway mark of the year still in the AFC East lead—and Rob Gronkowski has finally returned to the fold.

Gronkowski's presence will help Brady, the offense and the rest of the Patriots moving forward, but it's vital to rectify the mistakes of Week 7 and produce a division win at home versus Miami.

 

9. Carolina Panthers (4-3)

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It's safe to say the Cam Newton has elevated his play to another level in the past three games. Newton is throwing the ball on target as often as he ever has and isn't forcing the issue.

That formula is effective with the Panthers defense playing as well as it is and head coach Ron Rivera finally living up to his reputation as a defensive guru.

Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer reports that Jonathan Stewart is shooting for Nov. 3's contest against the Atlanta Falcons as his return date. The running back has yet to play this season, and forms a magnificent duo with fellow back DeAngelo Williams when healthy.

Even without Stewart, Carolina is averaging 130 yards per game on the ground, with Newton to thank for some of that given his excellent aptitude as a ball carrier.

Between those two and Mike Tolbert, there should be no shortage of looks in the rushing attack for offensive coordinator Mike Shula to throw at opposing teams.

The diversity in the running game and the rapid improvement Newton and the defense are experiencing have the Panthers' stock shooting skyward after a dominant 31-13 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday.

 

10. Green Bay Packers (4-2)

The linebacker corps is ailing. With Clay Mathews out and Nick Perry and Brad Jones listed on the Packers' official injury report as questionable, the front seven may suffer against the likes of Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in Week 8.

Then again, Green Bay doesn't have to worry too much about its NFC North rival, who can't remain consistent at QB.

On the other hand, Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers is one of the four best quarterbacks in the game, and now he has rookie Eddie Lacy as a bruising runner to ease the pressure of carrying the offensive load. Arming Rodgers with a viable running game has been a rarity and should scare his remaining adversaries.

 

11. Detroit Lions (4-3)

Winning close games has been a struggle for the Lions over the past year and a half or so. After winning the previous two contests that were decided by one possession, that problem resurfaced in a home loss to Cincinnati.

Such an issue is inevitably pinned on the quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who isn't as accurate as he should be due to many different release angles and lax footwork.

Stafford must render Dallas' secondary docile on Sunday or face intense scrutiny with a second straight defeat at Ford Field.

 

12. Dallas Cowboys (4-3)

The opportunity to maintain command of the NFC East awaits in the form of Sunday's road trip to Detroit, where Tony Romo will have to negotiate a formidable Lions front four.

Romo may not have DeMarco Murray (questionable) to hand the ball to for a second straight contest, but he must find a way to continue playing at a high level. The Cowboys' pass defense is awful and has a tough task in facing the likes of Stafford and Calvin Johnson, who just had 155 yards receiving in Week 7.

But with Romo, Dallas has a chance to steal a win away from home and gain respect around the league as a legitimate NFC contender.

 

13. New York Jets (4-3)

The lack of specificity in the introduction's stock fluctuation theme was designed with the Jets in mind.

From week to week, it's impossible to discern what New York will get out of rookie second-round pick Geno Smith. His penchant for turning the ball over must drive coaches crazy, yet his knack for leading game-winning drives and displaying poise under pressure suggests he is indeed the QB of the future.

What is yet to be determined is whether or not Smith is ready to lead the Jets to the playoffs in his first year.

Head coach Rex Ryan has done a masterful job of game-planning on defense. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has perhaps made Smith try to make too much happen with a high volume of deep passes:

If Mornhinweg can push his West Coast offense back to more traditional roots of shorter routes and faster reads, it should accelerate Smith's development, squash the turnover bug and put the Jets in better position to win games.

 

14. San Diego Chargers (4-3)

First-year head coach Mike McCoy has excelled thus far, putting Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers in position to revive his career after he had become a turnover machine in the previous two years.

A Monday night Week 6 victory over the Colts boosts this team's profile. Instead of having a letdown against a Jacksonville Jaguars bunch that competed well with the Broncos the previous game, the Chargers took care of business with a 24-6 triumph.

It's a sign that this nucleus is perhaps ready to turn a corner. Heading into the bye, the focus must continue to be on Rivers being efficient and as mistake-free as possible.

 

15. Miami Dolphins (3-3)

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Three straight wins to start the year generated buzz about all the additions general manager Jeff Ireland made to the roster in the offseason and the growth of last year's No. 8 overall draft pick Ryan Tannehill.

Both of those storylines have diminished to an extent, because Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 26 times and the Dolphins have lost three straight with this new-look outfit.

Traveling to Foxboro isn't bound to cure what ails the Dolphins. Having said that, it's a golden chance for Tannehill to prove himself as the golden boy under center in South Beach by outplaying Brady at Gillette Stadium.

 

16. Baltimore Ravens (3-4)

The defending Super Bowl champions get some benefit of the doubt here. They're still within striking distance in the division race, and games with the Steelers are always tough.

That's why last week's 19-16 loss is defensible. Plus, they have the reigning Super Bowl MVP in Joe Flacco, who went on such a brilliant playoff run that it couldn't have been a total fluke.

Such a grueling physical test precedes a perfectly timed bye week, after which the Ravens and Flacco should bounce back in taking on the reeling Cleveland Browns.

 

17. Chicago Bears (4-3)

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It seems like every time Jay Cutler is on the cusp of something big, he gets hurt. Think of the 2010 NFC Championship game, when he tore his MCL. Or the following year, when he was playing great but fractured his throwing thumb, and Chicago collapsed to miss the playoffs.

To be absolutely clear: This is not at all asserting that he isn't tough, because Cutler has had horrendous protection in previous years and taken as much punishment as anyone.

Unfortunately, a torn groin muscle has him out at least a month, putting the Bears in a difficult spot.

Josh McCown has been thrust into the starting role, while the organization has to be struggling with what to do about Cutler, who is in a contract year.

The defense has been far worse than in recent seasons; the Bears will be hard-pressed to translate their strong start to the season into a playoff appearance if they can't hover around .500 without Cutler.

 

18. Tennessee Titans (3-4)

A far more physical mindset on both sides of the ball has allowed the Titans to remain competitive in 2013. They must figure out how to get Chris Johnson going during the Week 8 bye, though.

Johnson is too good of a running back to be averaging 3.2 yards per carry and to have not found pay dirt on the ground yet this season. An immediately favorable schedule awaits soon, with St. Louis and Jacksonville as the next two games on tap.

Combined with a stellar defense and continued progression from third-year QB Jake Locker, Tennessee may have an outside shot at the postseason yet.

 

19. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)

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At least the defense showed signs of life against Dallas this past Sunday, but it became clear that the offense misses the presence of Michael Vick at quarterback.

As error-prone and susceptible to injury as Vick has historically been, he is an indubitable game-changer with the arm talent—and even still the foot speed—to rival any signal-caller in the league.

His return (probable) on Sunday against the lowly New York Giants should allow Philadelphia to right the ship and apply pressure on Dallas to win in Detroit. Otherwise, this could be the beginning of a strong Eagles push for the NFC East crown.

 

20. Arizona Cardinals (3-4)

What we know is that cornerback Patrick Peterson is a beast and can impact all three phases of the game. Arizona is also underusing an underrated rookie running back in Andre Ellington, leaving QB Carson Palmer susceptible to big hits.

That is stagnating the Cardinals' offense as well as their bid to be in playoff contention. Being in a tough NFC West division featuring both Seattle and San Francisco doesn't help, either.

Palmer is too immobile and doesn't have good enough pass protection for Arizona to win on the regular. It wouldn't be surprising to see the franchise go in a different direction at the position next year, barring drastic improvement.

 

21. Buffalo Bills (3-4)

Credit Thad Lewis for playing well enough to keep the Bills relevant while first-round rookie E.J. Manuel nurses his way back to health.

Even with C.J. Spiller struggling to be the big-play threat he was last season in producing 59 total yards in the past two games, Lewis has held up his end with solid if not spectacular passing performances. Lewis is not losing Buffalo games, which is all it can ask from its backup.

However, it's going to take a career effort from Lewis, an explosion from Spiller and extraordinary defense for the Bills to avoid a fall to 3-5 in New Orleans.

 

22. Oakland Raiders (2-4)

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With outstanding size, vastly improved mechanics, ridiculous athleticism and a rocket arm strapped to his right shoulder, Terrelle Pryor has all the makings of being the next big star.

Even though Denarius Moore and Rod Streater are his best receivers—no offense—Pryor has thrived at times this year. The nuances of the game are what he needs to shore up, as he admitted most of the 10 sacks he suffered in Week 6's loss at Kansas City were his fault.

Taking accountability for one's own shortcomings and working to correct them are traits that Pryor may not have exuded ever before. It should stoke Oakland's faith in him as the franchise savior.

 

23. Washington Redskins (2-4)

In leading his team to a shootout win in Week 7 while posting a QBR of 91.8 and running for a season-high 84 yards, Robert Griffin III looks like the RGIII of last year who generated so much buzz from the nation's capital.

The Redskins will go as far as Griffin can carry them; he must bring his best as the team embarks on a journey to Denver to take on the Super Bowl-contending Broncos.

As putrid as Washington's defense has been, Denver's high-octane offense should score in bunches. That puts the onus on Griffin to deliver under immense expectations as he continues his effort to save the season.

 

24. Atlanta Falcons (2-4)

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Without Julio Jones and Roddy White last week, QB Matt Ryan simply turned to 2008 draft classmate Harry Douglas, and the pair connected for seven passes, 149 yards and a touchdown.

Ryan proved his worth by succeeding without arguably the best receiver duo in the NFL. It was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though, and doing the same on the road at Arizona will prove to be more difficult.

At least that showing should have reinforced belief in Ryan and that he is indeed worth the massive extension Atlanta paid him this past offseason.

 

25. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4)

A clutch drive by Big Ben Roethlisberger put Shaun Suisham in position for the game-winning field goal. If the Steelers lost to Baltimore, the season was all but over.

Instead of caving in after a 0-4 start, head coach Mike Tomlin has galvanized the Steelers and gotten them back to playing hard-nosed, winning football. Rookie Le'Veon Bell is beginning to do his part, earning a tough 93 yards on 19 carries against the Ravens.

Roethlisberger has been sensational in Pittsburgh's two wins. He must be so again in facing an unheralded but good Raiders defense in the Black Hole in Week 8.

 

26. Houston Texans (2-5)

How about Case Keenum lighting it up in his starting debut at Kansas City, going 15-of-25 for 271 yards and a touchdown? There's a possible spark for the Texans to rally around.

According to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, it appears Keenum may have done enough to retain the job over Matt Schaub.

Having faith in one's quarterback is rational up to a point, then it becomes delusional. Head coach Gary Kubiak's trust in Schaub teetered toward loony territory. Turning back to him at this point would seem silly in the midst of a five-game losing streak after Keenum's impressive first taste of action.

 

27. Cleveland Browns (3-4)

The next man up on the Browns' nightmarish quarterback rotation is Jason Campbell, whose illogical comfort in throwing checkdown passes is reminiscent of Colt "Hitch" McCoy.

Campbell is the 20th starting quarterback for the franchise since it reentered the league in 1999—an embarrassing figure and proof that Cleveland is indeed a factory of sadness when it comes to professional sports.

All you need to know about the Browns in Week 8: Jason Campbell. On the road. At Arrowhead Stadium. Facing the only undefeated team in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Good luck.

 

28. St. Louis Rams (3-4)

With two years still remaining on his monster rookie contract, 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford still has time to prove himself, but at what point does the franchise move on?

Bradford has not lived up to his billing in the slightest, for whatever reason. Now he is out for the year with a torn ACL, making the evaluation of him all the more difficult.

What was supposed to be a playoff-caliber season has instead gone south in a hurry for St. Louis. A defense that was meant to be among the league's best is actually among its worst, and rookie playmaker Tavon Austin has been a wreck to date.

Austin has not been as integral a part of the offense as he should be given his gaudy draft status.

Now the Rams are too late and too deep into their quarterback bench—nonexistent to begin with—to establish Austin as a viable threat.

Clemens has a terrifying encounter with the Seahawks on tap, which will push the Rams to the basement of the NFC West.

 

29. New York Giants (1-6)

When Eli Manning isn't flinging it up for grabs and is on the same page with his receivers, he's pretty good. He did benefit from playing an awful opponent last Monday night, but he nevertheless got the G-Men their long-awaited first win of the season over the Vikings without turning it over.

Manning has three legitimate receiving targets in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle. Even without a running game to complement him, he should be lighting up the scoreboard.

Sunday's test at Philadelphia is as make-or-break as it gets. A win in the division would create optimism and also could pull them to within two games of the East lead if the Cowboys lose.

 

30. Minnesota Vikings (1-5)

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Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and now Josh Freeman have all had cracks at quarterbacking this team, to no prevailing avail. None look like viable long-term QBs, but the carousel continues, with Ponder now likely back in the saddle.

No one in this trio has succeeded even with Adrian Peterson creating eight-man boxes, so the problem is multifaceted. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has created anti-innovative game plans, and it's crippling the young Vikings' progress.

Then again, that lack of offensive complexity may be due to an absence of a competent-enough quarterback to master anything more.

 

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7)

Time will tell if Mike Glennon is the franchise quarterback. Meanwhile, it seems only a matter of time before head coach Greg Schiano gets the ax.

A fascinating account of just how awful the situation in Tampa Bay is by NFL.com's Michael Silver should spell doom for the former Rutgers coach.

Schiano appears incapable of competent coaching on the professional level. With such a talented roster at his disposal—and a loaded defense, the side of the ball he's known for—there's an alarming lack of positive results.

 

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-7)

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What you see is what you get with Chad Henne, who has admittedly proven to look better than Blaine Gabbert. Not that that's saying much.

The Jags are in turmoil, with some of the silver linings being that Justin Blackmon has the tools to be a true No. 1 receiver and that the next prospective draft class is littered with talent at the game's most important position.

One thing is certain: Professional football in Florida looks awful at the moment. At least the NBA season is starting soon.

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