As we head into Week 10 of the NFL season, which team stands above the rest?
The 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs can definitely make a claim to that title. With the New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals—both Top 10 teams last week—losing, there are plenty of shake-ups in the top of this week's rankings. Just as those losses affect the rankings, so too does the win by the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Redskins' overtime defeat of the San Diego Chargers.
With eight weeks to go, who is the best team in the league? It's pretty obvious.
This Week's Rank: 32
Last Week's Rank: 32
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers retain the last spot in the rankings after surrendering a 21-point lead to the Seahawks in Week 9. Not only is this the worst team in the NFL, but the Bucs also have the worst head coach. And he needs to go.
Greg Schiano is completely mismanaging a roster with talent—quite a bit of it—as the on-field execution is so bad that the team can't win. Even when it has a three-touchdown lead at halftime. If you ever wanted to watch a team lose hope, watch the Buccaneers in the second half of this one.
Hope is gone. Schiano will soon be following it out the door.
This Week's Rank: 31
Last Week's Rank: 31
Fresh off their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in London, the Jacksonville Jaguars were on a bye in Week 9. The good news is that the team can't lose on a bye week. The bad news is that they face the Tennessee Titans in Week 10.
All season, it's been obvious that the Jaguars have some good young talent to build around, but that took a huge hit with the indefinite suspension of Justin Blackmon this week. Without Blackmon for the rest of the year, the team's chances of getting a win or two have taken a major hit.
It could be a case of addition by subtraction, but the Jaguars have a major lack of talent on the active roster right now.
This Week's Rank: 30
Last Week's Rank: 30
The Minnesota Vikings were so close to a win, but just like how good teams find a way to win ugly, bad teams find a way to lose ugly. The Vikings are losing ugly.
There are positive signs to take away from the team's near miss versus the Dallas Cowboys. Adrian Peterson had some amazing runs, Christian Ponder was more efficient than any Minnesota quarterback has been all season, and the run defense was very stout. But all those positives couldn't erase the negatives. That's been the story for the Vikings all season long.
This Week's Rank: 29
Last Week's Rank: 25
After eight games, I feel comfortable saying that the Atlanta Falcons are just not very good.
You can point to injuries—losing Julio Jones and Roddy White would hurt anyone—but it's more than that. Poor play-calling has hurt the offense, and a lack of consistency has led to Matt Ryan throwing 10 interceptions on the year. As you might have guessed, all of Ryan's interceptions have come in losses for the struggling Birds.
The 2013 season will likely be one to forget, barring a miraculous second-half turnaround. The best news is that the team will be in position to grab a top-tier rookie in the 2014 draft class.
This Week's Rank: 28
Last Week's Rank: 24
The Pittsburgh Steelers gave up the most points in franchise history in Week 9, losing to the New England Patriots 55-31. As the Steelers drop to a surprising 2-6, it's time to start thinking about next season. This team has talent, but it's also missing key pieces to put together a winning team.
Those pieces can be added in the offseason, but the key here is knowing which players to find. The Steelers haven't had a great track record in recent draft classes—outside of hits at wide receiver—and that's left the roster barren in key spots. And with no run game or run defense, these Steelers look and play a lot differently than the Steelers we all grew up watching.
This Week's Rank: 27
Last Week's Rank: 27
If you're Tom Coughlin, you probably didn't want a bye week after two straight wins, but the New York Giants were off in Week 9. Now they'll prepare for an eight-week stretch of games in which they must win most, if not all. And as crazy as it might seem, the Giants are still very much alive in the NFC East.
The Giants don't see a move this week due to the week off, but they're definitely trending in the right direction. If they can get past the Oakland Raiders at home in Week 10, they'll have three consecutive victories and their early-season struggles will be forgotten.
This Week's Rank: 26
Last Week's Rank: 26
The legend of Case Keenum almost grew to Texas-sized proportions on Sunday night. Had the young quarterback been able to pull off an upset of the Indianapolis Colts in front of a national audience, the football world would have gone crazy.
It still might.
Keenum played admirably in defeat, taking the Houston Texans to an early lead thanks to three-first half touchdown hookups with Andre Johnson. The Texans, though, struggled to finish. Head coach Gary Kubiak's halftime collapse left the team flat in the second half, and it couldn't recover.
Sadly, that's been the story for Houston this year. A talented team, but one that struggles to finish.
This Week's Rank: 25
Last Week's Rank: 22
Losing by 10 points to the undefeated Chiefs is not normally what I'd call a moral victory, but in Week 9, the Buffalo Bills proved they are better than their record.
Going with undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel at quarterback against the NFL's feistiest pass-rushers should have resulted in an embarrassing outcome, but the Bills were able to run the ball well against a tough Chiefs defense. And thanks to its own stout pass rush, Buffalo was in the game longer than most expected.
Doug Marrone's team isn't healthy right now, but when it gets starting quarterback EJ Manuel back, we'll see a team that's learned to play tough for 60 minutes.
This Week's Rank: 24
Last Week's Rank: 21
The Oakland Raiders were on the wrong side of history in Week 9, as their defense allowed Nick Foles to throw a record-tying seven touchdown passes. Fans of the Raiders will point out that the team had a top-10 defense against the pass heading into the week, but Foles exposed the lack of talent in the secondary early and often.
The Raiders are an exciting team though. They're capable of ripping off several wins in a row, but they have to find a level of consistency. Even in defeat, the offense produced yards, but it struggled to seal the deal with points.
Until the offense can become more productive in the red zone, and until the defense can lock down a good passing offense, the Raiders will be fun to watch but not a winning team. But they're a hell of a lot closer than anyone thought they would be three months ago.
This Week's Rank: 23
Last Week's Rank: 28
What a weird week—and win—for Washington.
The San Diego Chargers looked to be a much better team on paper, especially when you matched up Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense against the Washington secondary. And yet, it was two interceptions of Rivers that allowed Washington to win the game.
You have to consider this a scary team over the next eight weeks. As long as Robert Griffin III can stay healthy, this team is still alive.
This Week's Rank: 22
Last Week's Rank: 29
The Cleveland Browns snapped a three-game losing streak in impressive fashion by taking down the division-rival Baltimore Ravens. Now, at 4-5, the Browns are No. 2 in the AFC North ahead of traditional bullies in the Steelers and Ravens.
The key for the Browns is to play a quarterback not named Brandon Weeden. In their four wins, either Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell started the game. In four of their five losses, Weeden started. That recipe worked in Week 9 with Campbell under center and the passing game taking off against the Ravens.
The bulk of the credit has to go to the Cleveland defense. Shutting down the Ravens offense to a point where Joe Flacco was the leading rusher is crazy good.
This Week's Rank: 21
Last Week's Rank: 18
With Kellen Clemens at quarterback and Zac Stacy at running back, the St. Louis Rams almost beat the Tennessee Titans. That's a credit to Jeff Fisher and some unknown stars in St. Louis.
Many in the draft media liked Stacy before the 2013 draft, so while he's not a complete unknown, most people have been getting their introduction to him over the last two weeks. Clemens has been a journeyman in the NFL, never showing much promise as a starting option, but he's played well enough to keep the Rams competitive. That in itself is a pleasant surprise.
The Rams aren't winning the close games they pulled off a year ago, but with exceptional defense and a strong run game, they're capable of surprising people.
This Week's Rank: 20
Last Week's Rank: 20
The Arizona Cardinals hit the bye week with a 4-4 record and the potential for anything to happen in the second half of the season. As it stands now, the Cardinals are just one win back in the race for the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
Winning over the next half of the season won't come easy—not with a heavy NFC West schedule—but it is possible. The Cardinals have found a run game with Andre Ellington, and the defense has been bolstered by the return of linebacker Daryl Washington.
The Cardinals may not be great, but they're sneaky-good at this point. And that might be good enough to outlast a team like the Detroit Lions for a playoff berth.
This Week's Rank: 19
Last Week's Rank: 23
Seven touchdown passes by Nick Foles will get you a win every time. It also gets his name in the record book, tied for the most touchdown passes in a single game.
Foles' big day and win over the Oakland Raiders could be the momentum shift the Eagles needed. Now the team sits at 4-5, which isn't that far back from a No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff race. The Lions lead that category currently with a 5-3 record, but the Eagles aren't far behind.
If Foles is the answer at quarterback—and he seems to be—the Eagles are in much better shape moving forward.
This Week's Rank: 18
Last Week's Rank: 15
The Baltimore Ravens are not a good football team. At least not consistently. Losing to the Cleveland Browns in Week 9 proved that.
The Browns completely dismantled the Ravens on both sides of the ball. Joe Flacco was the team's leading rusher, while Jason Campbell torched the defense for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
The Ravens may have won the Super Bowl last year, but they are a far cry from that team. With Flacco taking up so much of the salary cap, this team will need to reload through the draft. I have faith in general manager Ozzie Newsome, but "patience" will be the word in the front office.
This Week's Rank: 17
Last Week's Rank: 19
Putting aside the craziness that is the Jonathan Martin situation briefly, what does the rest of the season look like for the Miami Dolphins?
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a crazy 35 times, the most in the league. Even at 6'4", 222 pounds, he's going to have a hard time staying healthy and focused if he's being hit that many times. Ask David Carr. For the Dolphins to have any chance of winning an open AFC East, they have to protect Tannehill.
The defense and run game are good enough for Miami to get six more wins down the stretch, but unless the offensive line can protect longer—and unless Tannehill can make decisions faster—this team won't be able to outlast the New England Patriots and New York Jets in the division.
This Week's Rank: 16
Last Week's Rank: 17
A tough defense, a productive run game and playing against a Kellen Clemens-led team is a good, winning combination. The Tennessee Titans held on against the St. Louis Rams for a seven-point win. That gets them to .500 with eight games to go.
Quarterback Jake Locker has struggled at times since returning from injury in Week 7, and that could dramatically affect how well the team does down the stretch. Locker seems healthy, but rusty after missing so much time and then playing just one game before a Week 8 bye.
If Locker can get back on his pre-injury track, the Titans can pose serious problems for teams as they move toward a winning record.
This Week's Rank: 15
Last Week's Rank: 13
It's always tough to judge how far to move a team after an overtime loss, especially in a game that ended with very weird play-calling from San Diego on the goal line in the fourth quarter. The win was right there for the taking, but the offense got cute and had to settle for a tying field goal. That led to overtime, where Washington was able to get points first.
So, who are these Chargers? The team has shown an explosive offense at times. The defensive front seven is aggressive and tough to move on. When all things click, the Chargers are a tough team to beat. But in Week 9 we saw that they don't always click.
With eight games to go, this is still a playoff-contending team, but it has to keep winning to stay in competition with other wild-card contenders like the New York Jets.
This Week's Rank: 14
Last Week's Rank: 12
Tony Romo did what he does best in Week 9, painting a perfect picture of his career in two fourth-quarter series.
On third down, with roughly 4:30 to play in the game and Dallas trailing by three points, Romo was picked off by cornerback A.J. Jefferson. "Typical Romo," everyone said. But not really. Typical Romo was when, on the next series, he led the team 90 yards on nine plays for the go-ahead touchdown pass. That's the Romo we've seen more of this year.
The Cowboys aren't perfect, but right now they are by far the best team in the NFC East.
This Week's Rank: 13
Last Week's Rank: 14
The definitive win of Week 9 goes to the New York Jets for their takedown of the New Orleans Saints. In the process, the team moves to 5-4 on the year and distances itself from an embarrassing 40-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8.
Now the Jets are in position to fight for a playoff spot. With their 1-1 record against the New England Patriots, the team can still make a run at the division title if it can keep winning. With the way Rex Ryan has this team playing, anything is possible right now.
This Week's Rank: 12
Last Week's Rank: 16
Somehow, the Carolina Panthers snuck up on the NFL media. The best team no one is talking about, the Panthers are currently 5-3 and tied for the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
The job offensive coordinator Mike Shula has done with Cam Newton and the playbook is exceptional. Shula has been smart enough to make changes in-season to go away from what wasn't working early in the year, and he is now putting Newton and the offense in position to win with matchups. It's working, too.
The Panthers have the talent to hold on and make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season and for the fifth time in their history.
This Week's Rank: 11
Last Week's Rank: 9
We found out how good the Green Bay Packers are without Aaron Rodgers. The answer is that they aren't very good at all.
Eddie Lacy was still a punishing force at running back, but the offense struggled with no threat of a passing attack. The extent of Rodgers' injury remains to be seen, but losing him for any amount of time would be devastating for the Packers' season.
Even with Rodgers, the Packers defense has to be questioned after giving up 27 points to the Josh McCown-led Chicago Bears.
This Week's Rank: 10
Last Week's Rank: 11
The Chicago Bears were able to beat the Green Bay Packers minus Aaron Rodgers, moving to 5-3 on the season. Were it not for subpar play by backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, the Bears could have been in trouble.
Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy crushed the Chicago defense all game—even with the threat of a passing attack diminished. The win came on the strength of Marc Trestman calling a great offensive game and a huge catch by Alshon Jeffery in the end zone that gave Chicago the lead.
As it stands now, the NFC North is wide open. If the Bears can get Jay Cutler back into the swing of things quickly, they could emerge as the leaders in the division.
This Week's Rank: 9
Last Week's Rank: 10
The bye week comes with the Detroit Lions in a leading position for the No. 6 seed in the NFC. Over the next eight weeks, the Lions control their own playoff destiny. Keep winning and they're in—either as NFC North champions or as a wild-card team.
That's possible now that the toughest part of the schedule is over. The Lions still face the Green Bay Packers once in Detroit, but the rest of the games are winnable. The Bears are without Jay Cutler, the Steelers, Giants, Bucs and Eagles aren't a threat on paper, and only the Baltimore Ravens pose a possible threat in terms of a bad matchup.
That's not to say the next eight weeks will be easy, but the road is paved for the Lions to make it back to the postseason.
This Week's Rank: 8
Last Week's Rank: 7
Losing to the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night was bad enough. Losing Geno Atkins for the season with an ACL injury just adds to it.
The Bengals lost a winnable game on a short week—something that happens to almost every team throughout a season. The key is to dust yourself off, move on and forget it. That will be harder to do without Atkins and with quarterback Andy Dalton showing some regression after three solid weeks of play.
Dalton is the key here. If he plays like he did in Weeks 6-8, the Bengals will easily take the AFC North and host a playoff game. If Dalton is more like the three-interception quarterback who played in Week 9, the Bengals could risk losing the division to Baltimore or limping into the playoffs much like they did the last two seasons.
This Week's Rank: 7
Last Week's Rank: 6
Week 9 of the NFL season proved that anything can happen. The New Orleans Saints losing to the New York Jets is all the proof you'd ever need.
What plagued the Saints in their road loss was missed opportunities. Garrett Hartley missed a field goal, Drew Brees had a pass tipped and intercepted, the defense failed to get to Chris Ivory, and a 4th-and-1 tight end reverse got stopped. All those small mistakes add up, and eventually the game ends and you've lost 26-20.
The Saints are better than their play showed in Week 9, and losing to the Jets is nothing to panic over. This is still the best team in the NFC South, but the Carolina Panthers are quietly sneaking up on them. Sean Payton and Co. have to get back on track.
This Week's Rank: 6
Last Week's Rank: 8
The New England Patriots move to 7-2 heading into the bye week after pounding the Pittsburgh Steelers in a statement game. Tom Brady and Co. need the week off, though, as this team is beaten up at many positions. That makes New England's seven wins all the more impressive.
Playing without Sebastian Vollmer, Vince Wilfork, Aqib Talib, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly and Shane Vereen should have crushed this team, but in classic Patriots fashion, the team has persevered. Whether the Pats can play as impressively against an elite team remains to be seen, but they'll get a long two weeks to plan for their Week 11 Monday night game against the Panthers.
That game could go a long way in telling us about both teams, but for now, few teams look as complete as the Patriots.
This Week's Rank: 5
Last Week's Rank: 5
The bye week after traveling to London gives the San Francisco 49ers time to get healthy. That's something that should worry you if you're a fan of another NFL team.
Through the first nine weeks, the 49ers were without Mario Manningham, Eric Wright, Michael Crabtree, Tank Carradine and recently Aldon Smith. They'll get at least some of those players back in Week 10, but expect them all to be returning soon. When a 6-2 team that's won five straight gets back top-level playmakers like those mentioned above, you have to pause and realize that the NFL's best team may just be getting hot.
This Week's Rank: 4
Last Week's Rank: 4
Two straight close wins may have you questioning the Seattle Seahawks, and that's fine, but they are finding ways to win tough games. The fact that they are winning with injuries to both starting offensive tackles (Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini) and wide receivers (Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin) is a testament to their resolve and the coaching staff's ability to adjust.
We saw those adjustments in Week 9. The team trailed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 21 points at halftime but held on and won in overtime. You may call that an ugly win; I just call it a win. And winning is all that matters at the end of the day.
The Seahawks haven't looked great the last two weeks, but their record is still 2-0 over that time.
This Week's Rank: 3
Last Week's Rank: 3
The Denver Broncos are off in Week 9, giving them a full two weeks to prepare for a trip to San Diego to take on the Chargers.
The Broncos will be tested as much as any team the rest of the way. They still have two games against the Kansas City Chiefs that will determine who wins the AFC West, and they must do that without head coach John Fox for "several weeks," per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Until Fox can return to the sidelines after having heart surgery to repair the damage, the Broncos are left with a coordinator taking on head coaching duties.
That worked for the Indianapolis Colts last season, but it remains to be seen if the Broncos will come together or fall apart in Fox's time off.
This Week's Rank: 2
Last Week's Rank: 1
Why do the Indianapolis Colts move down one spot this week? Two reasons.
First off, the Kansas City Chiefs are 9-0. I can't ignore the fact that the Chiefs are still undefeated, no matter how many elite teams the Colts beat.
Secondly, the Colts have a habit of playing down to their competition. It could be said they've also played up to their better opponents, but against the Houston Texans in Week 9, we saw them struggle on offense, defense and special teams. Even though it resulted in a win—and a great comeback—the team played flat for three quarters.
The Colts are a very good team. Maybe great. But the Chiefs are No. 1 for now.
This Week's Rank: 1
Last Week's Rank: 2
There is only one undefeated team in the NFL right now. That team is the Kansas City Chiefs.
Winning nine straight games deserves a ton of respect—no matter who you play, who that team has or how you won. Winning back-to-back games is hard enough, but stringing together nine straight is remarkable. The Chiefs deserve credit. More credit than they've been given in this space previously.
You might think a win over the Buffalo Bills—a team starting its third-string quarterback—wouldn't be enough to move the Chiefs up in the rankings. That might be logical, but there is no way a 9-0 team can be ranked anywhere but No. 1.