After Week 8 of the NFL season, a familiar phenomenon has resurfaced in the NFL—parity is alive and kicking.
Once you get past the top 10 teams—and at this point in the season, there are clearly 10 teams that stand out above the rest—it gets pretty tricky to rank the remaining teams until you hit the cellar dwellers.
But we'll attempt to do that here anyway, asking key questions like where an undefeated team with a cupcake schedule should be ranked, or where exactly a team as infuriating as the Dallas Cowboys belongs.
To the rankings!
1. Seattle Seahawks (6-1)
Analysis: It's always possible that Seattle could falter at St. Louis on Monday night—the Seahawks aren't as good on the road—but it seems unlikely. There isn't a more balanced team in the NFL, especially once the Seahawks get Percy Harvin back from injury.
When you have just one loss, you lead the NFL in rushing, you're third in rush defense and you're seventh in pass defense, you top these rankings.
2. Denver Broncos (7-1)
Analysis: For three quarters, Washington looked like it had figured Denver out, leading 21-14.
And then Peyton Manning and the Broncos erupted, scoring 31 fourth-quarter points and winning, 45-21. It's almost as though Denver has a "blowout switch" that it can flick on at any time. The return of Von Miller will have a major impact for a defense that has struggled this season.
3. New Orleans Saints (6-1)
Analysis: Jimmy Graham is so good that he turned 18 snaps and three receptions with a partially torn plantar fascia into two touchdowns. That Drew Brees guy is pretty good, too. But the main reason the Saints are 6-1 is a defense that has held six of seven opponents to 18 points or less.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-0)
Analysis: Some people will contest that the undefeated Chiefs should top this list on principle. Incorrect. Kansas City hasn't played a single team with a winning record and has squeaked out victories over the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns.
There is no doubt that the Chiefs are talented—and given the way they run the ball and play defense, a playoff berth seems inevitable—but until they face better competition, they don't crack the top three of these rankings.
5. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
Analysis: Were Reggie Wayne not done for the season, the Colts would be higher on these rankings. After victories over the San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos, they deserve plenty of respect. But losing Wayne is a major blow for this team. Andrew Luck is incredible, but unless Trent Richardson gets going in the running game, the Colts may struggle a bit without Wayne.
6. San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
Analysis: Very, very quietly, the 49ers have won five straight games, the second-longest winning streak in the NFL behind Kansas City. An easy stretch of games has helped, but so has a return to a ground-and-pound rushing attack that is now second in the league (153 yards per game). Colin Kaepernick is about to blow up, folks, especially once Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree return.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2)
Analysis: The Bengals are "en fuego," winning four straight. And while the defense has been solid all season, the real development is Andy Dalton, who has thrown for 1,034 yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in the past three games.
Oh, and then there's that Marvin Jones fellow at wide receiver (four touchdowns on Sunday), who will surely be a popular addition in fantasy leagues this week. If he can continue to torch teams that roll coverage over to elite talent A.J. Green, the Bengals are going to be very, very tough to beat.
8. Green Bay Packers (5-2)
Analysis: Let's be honest—Aaron Rodgers probably couldn't turn you or I into a productive NFL receiver, but he could come close. Even without Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley, this offense keeps on clicking. And with Eddie Lacy and the running game chugging along nicely, this Packers team is going to be really scary once it gets healthy.
9. New England Patriots (6-2)
Analysis: It's rare that a team wins but the concerns seem to outweigh the positives. Such is the case for the New England Patriots. Something is definitely up with Tom Brady; the Pats' passing game floundered even with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola in the lineup.
A strong running game and solid defense will be enough to win in some weeks, but if Brady can't get this passing game humming, the Pats won't be making noise among the AFC elites.
10. Detroit Lions (5-3)
Analysis: The Lions always make it interesting in the end, don't they? Maybe they should just make "get Calvin Johnson the ball" the play call every time they huddle. After his 329-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys, don't you think it would work?
11. San Diego Chargers (4-3)
Analysis: The Chargers' schedule gets a lot tougher down the stretch—they face the Broncos and Chiefs twice each—but with Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates rejuvenated, Keenan Allen emerging and Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews platooning nicely, things are looking up in San Diego.
12. Carolina Panthers (4-3)
Analysis: The Panthers have a good enough defense—third in yards allowed per game, second in points given up per game—to be competitive in every game they play. If Cam Newton keeps his mistakes to a minimum and the running game keeps on clicking, the Panthers will win.
The Panthers have been prone to losing streaks in the past—and they still have to face the Patriots, 49ers and Saints (twice)—but this is a team that should be sniffing around the NFC Wild Card spot come December.
13. Chicago Bears (4-3)
Analysis: The Bears would be No. 10 on this list, but Jay Cutler's injury is a pretty major blow. If the defense can pick up its play, the team leans on Matt Forte, and Josh McCown can limit his mistakes, the Bears might be just fine without Cutler.
Then again, matchups against the Packers, Lions and Baltimore Ravens in the next three weeks might sink the Bears to 4-6.
14. Baltimore Ravens (3-4)
Analysis: It's hard to blame Baltimore's defense for the team's two-game losing streak after it held the Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers each to 19 points. If this team doesn't find a way to get Ray Rice on track—he has just 242 rushing yards and is averaging 2.8 yards per carry—it's going to be a long season in Baltimore.
15. Dallas Cowboys (4-4)
Analysis: Is there a worse team in crunch time than the Cowboys? If it isn't Tony Romo throwing untimely interceptions, it's the defense being unable to protect a lead, all while Dez Bryant screams at someone in the background. Dallas' dysfunction is great for ratings and sports-talk radio, but it continues to keep a team with talent from being a legitimate contender.
16. Tennessee Titans (3-4)
Analysis: The return of Jake Locker last week wasn't enough to beat the Niners, but it will be enough to beat the Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars after Tennessee's Week 8 bye. With Locker, the Titans are 3-2. Without him, they were 0-2. With their defense, the Titans are capable of making a run at a Wild Card spot.
17. Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
Analysis: The Cardinals are who we thought they were—a team capable of beating most teams on the schedule, but one that generally will only feast on poorer competition and lose to the NFL's elite. They're 3-1 at home and 1-3 on the road. Unless Andre Ellington can make his 154-yard rushing performance a regular occurrence, the Cardinals will remain a pretty average team.
18. New York Jets (4-4)
Analysis: The Jets have a good enough defense to generally keep them in most games, but also a young quarterback who is going to cost them from time to time. Sound familiar?
It remains to be seen if Geno Smith is the new Mark Sanchez, but three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the past two weeks won't quiet the comparisons.
19. Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Analysis: From Week 9 to Week 14, the Raiders don't play a single team with a winning record. While it seems like a long shot, it's possible they could saunter into matchups with the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with nine or 10 wins. The Raiders have been sturdy in the trenches, ranking fifth in rush offense and sixth in rush defense.
20. Buffalo Bills (3-5)
Analysis: Thad Lewis has played pretty well considering he was a practice squad player coming into the season. But if the Bills are going to beat teams, they will need to pound the rock successfully and play much better defense than they have thus far (26th in yards allowed per game, 25th in points allowed).
Things aren't going to get easier this week when the undefeated Chiefs come to town.
21. Miami Dolphins (3-4)
Analysis: The Dolphins are in free-fall, having lost four games in a row. With a short week to prepare for the scalding-hot Bengals, don't be surprised if that number becomes five.
22. Washington Redskins (2-5)
Analysis: For three quarters against the Broncos, Washington looked like a team that was fully back on track. Thirty-one unanswered points later, questions still remain.
But with four matchups against "NFC Least" teams remaining, winnable games against the San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons also on tap, and the running game looking strong (when the Shanahans don't inexplicably abandon it), Washington could yet sneak into the playoffs.
23. Cleveland Browns (3-5)
Analysis: You have to feel for Browns fans. This team seemed on the precipice of big things before Brian Hoyer was lost for the season. Jason Campbell certainly looked better than Brandon Weeden against the Chiefs, but the Browns seem destined for another losing season.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)
Analysis: The sky is falling in Philadelphia, largely because Michael Vick can't stay healthy, Nick Foles is inconsistent and Matt Barkley has looked pretty dreadful when he's had to play. This was probably always a 6-10 roster, but the Eagles' exciting offensive play early in the season made everyone forget that was the case.
25. St. Louis Rams (3-4)
Analysis: Two words: Kellen Clemens. There is talent on this roster, but there aren't going to be many wins until Sam Bradford returns next season.
26. Houston Texans (2-5)
Analysis: It might be a bit premature to say that the Case Keenum era has begun in Houston, but he'll get the start in Week 9 against the Indianapolis Colts according to Tania Ganguli of ESPN. If he can limit his mistakes—and either Arian Foster or Ben Tate can suit up—this team has the talent to not only beat the Colts, but make a run at the playoffs.
But everything begins and ends with the quarterback play in Houston. The ball is now in Keenum's court.
27. Atlanta Falcons (2-5)
Analysis: Matt Ryan can't do it alone, as was evidenced in the Falcons loss to the Cardinals this weekend. With neither Julio Jones nor Roddy White available, teams are turning their focus to shutting down Tony Gonzalez and the Falcons offense is suffering. With Steven Jackson looking pretty dreadful in his return, it's hard to see the Falcons climbing out of this ditch.
28. New York Giants (2-6)
Analysis: It took ugly wins over the Vikings and Eagles, but the Giants have now won two games in a row. The Giants will at least head into their bye with some hope of salvaging this season, though tough games against the Packers, Seahawks and Lions make a complete turnaround seem unlikely.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5)
Analysis: Let's be realistic—the Steelers just aren't very good this year. With games remaining against the Patriots, Lions, Ravens, Bengals and Packers, the Steelers will have plenty of chances to prove that statement true.
30. Minnesota Vikings (1-6)
Analysis: Picking between Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman at quarterback is like choosing between moldy bread and curdled milk at a meal. At this point, the question isn't how this team became so bad, but how it made the playoffs last year in the first place.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7)
Analysis: Doug Martin's return is up in the air. Mike Williams is lost for the season, per Marc Sessler at NFL.com. Darrelle Revis is being utilized improperly. Greg Schiano's seat is hotter than a bug frying under a magnifying glass on an August day in Florida. Things can't possibly get worse, can they?
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8)
Analysis: At this point, there's one thing the Jaguars have to look forward to, and it sounds a little something like this: With the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select...
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