It is the time of the NFL season where the cream needs to start rising to the top. Last week, the Panthers showed off their creaminess by going into San Francisco and beating the 49ers 10-9.
That wasn't the only statement win of the week, but it sure was the loudest.
There are still plenty of statements to be made in this regular season, and teams flying a bit under the radar still have time to make a push towards the playoffs.
However, as we shut the book on Week 10, it is the time of the NFL season where power rankings start to foretell playoff success.
All season stats and rankings via TeamRankings.com.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
After 10 weeks of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs will finally play the division-rival Denver Broncos. The game in Denver will also be the Chiefs' first against a winning team.
This will finally give the league's only undefeated team a real test.
The Broncos, the NFL's highest-scoring team, will help prove just how good the Chiefs defense really is. Kansas City leads the league in scoring defense at just 12.3 points per game.
If the Chiefs improve to 10-0 with a win in Denver, there will be no questioning their spot atop power rankings.
2. Seattle Seahawks
After a bit of a two-week funk saw Seattle struggle to a 14-9 win over the St. Louis Rams and a 27-24 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seahawks blew the Atlanta Falcons off the field this past Sunday 33-10.
It is an exciting time for Seahawks fans.
3. Denver Broncos
Just as the Chiefs-Broncos game is a big test for Kansas City, it also is for the Broncos. Denver has played just one team with a winning record this season (Indianapolis Colts), and it lost.
Also, while Denver has had no problem scoring points, the offensive line has been slumping and Peyton Manning has been taking a lot of hits.
If the offensive line doesn't improve against the Chiefs fearsome pass rush, Manning may not be able to finish the game.
4. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are coming off of a 42-17 rout of the Dallas Cowboys. In that game, the Saints rushed for 242 yards.
That is New Orleans' highest rushing total in 23 years.
Combine this rushing attack with a passing attack that is second in the league in yards, the Saints offense is frightening.
5. Carolina Panthers
Anyone doubting the legitimacy of the Carolina Panthers has to be rethinking that stance this week. The Panthers went into San Francisco and beat the 49ers 10-9.
In that game, the Panthers displayed the potency of their defensive line by abusing the 49ers' strong offensive line. The Panthers sacked Colin Kaepernick six times. That doubled the highest amount of sacks the 49ers had allowed in a game this season.
The Panthers have now won five straight games and have the most fearsome defense in the league. The sky is the limit for this team.
6. New England Patriots
The Patriots are coming off of a bye after going for 55 points in a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. That included Tom Brady throwing for over 400 yards in a needed passing breakout.
The Patriots will return to action against the stout Panthers defense we just discussed. This will be a big test for New England's offense.
If the Patriots, who have struggled at points in pass protection, can find consistent success through the air in that game, the rest of the AFC should start getting a little nervous.
7. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had their five-game winning streak snapped with a 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers this past weekend. After scoring at least 31 points in each game of that five-game winning streak, San Francisco mustered just nine points and 151 yards of offense.
The Panthers have an outstanding defense, but the 49ers' lack of ability to beat teams with the pass is going to cost them against any team they can not run over.
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts' 38-8 loss at home to the Rams this past week is one of the biggest shockers of the season.
In that game, Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens completed just nine passes for 247 yards as the Colts were unable to handle the speed of rookie receiver Tavon Austin.
Meanwhile, without star receiver Reggie Wayne, Andrew Luck had a hard time finding open receivers and wound up throwing three picks.
Trent Richardson led all Colts running backs in yards on Sunday, which is what was expected after the Colts landed him in a trade from Cleveland. However, he did so by getting five carries that produced two yards.
All of a sudden, a team that looked like it had a chance to compete for being one of the best in the AFC looks like it is going to limp to the end of the season.
9. New York Jets
The Jets will return from their bye week with a trip to Buffalo to take on the Bills, and they will do so in far better shape than anyone could have anticipated.
At 5-4, the Jets have four more wins than I expected them to have at this point in the season.
With a defense that is allowing a league-leading 3.1 yards per carry, the Jets can make a real push for the postseason.
10. Detroit Lions
The Lions have won their last two games, against the Cowboys and Bears, by a combined three points. That's a great sign for this team.
The Lions have been plagued by self destruction and immature play over recent seasons. They have shown poise in these close wins. The victory over the Bears gives them a one-game lead in the NFC North, and as the above video muses, the Lions are in control of the division.
Now, let's see how this group handles the prosperity.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
After an impressive 49-9 victory over the New York Jets, the Bengals have lost two straight. Both losses came in overtime, and both came against teams that can't manage to beat anyone else.
The Bengals lost to the Dolphins in Week 9. That is the only game the Dolphins have won in their last six. This past week, the Dolphins fell to the Ravens. That was the Ravens' first win in four games and the second in their last six outings.
Unlike the Lions hope to do, the Bengals did not handle prosperity well.
12. Green Bay Packers
Leading up to Aaron Rodgers' injury two games ago, the Packers were a team on the rise. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy was bringing balance to the offense, and the defense was holding together enough for the Packers to win four straight.
All progress has ground to a halt since his injury. Green Bay has lost two straight and last week mustered just 13 points against the Eagles.
At 5-4, there is still time for the Packers to save their season. However, with Rodgers' return date still up in the air, the hopes for this season could quickly extinguish.
13. Chicago Bears
The Bears lost a tough game to the Lions on Sunday and lost the division lead in the process. They also suffered more injuries:
Cutler had just returned from injury.
While these are far less than ideal circumstances, Josh McCown has done a solid job for the Bears in relief of Cutler, and the defense has shown signs of improvement. The 41 points allowed by the Bears over the last two games is the best two-game showing in points allowed this season.
It is too early to write this team off.
14. San Diego Chargers
San Diego played the Broncos tough this past week in a 28-20 loss, but this 4-5 team has to start winning games like that if it wants to taste the postseason.
With two games remaining against the undefeated Chiefs, one at Denver and also a pivotal home game against the Bengals in two weeks, the Chargers have a tough road to the postseason.
15. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have won two straight, and at 5-4 they are just a game behind the 49ers for second in the NFC West. On top of that, the Cardinals play the Jacksonville Jaguars this week.
Arizona's defense has been playing at a high level. It is third in yards allowed per rush (3.5) and eighth in yards allowed per pass (6.0).
This is all great news for Arizona's playoff chances.
The bad news is that Cardinals are 19th in sacked percentage, and the pressure is leading to Carson Palmer being a turnover machine. He has thrown at least one pick in each game and has 15 for the season.
16. Philadelphia Eagles
Who didn't project Nick Foles being a better fit for Chip Kelly's system than Michael Vick?
Well, I certainly didn't for one, but that face is clear now. Check this out:
With Foles leading the charge, the Eagles have won two straight and have climbed back to .500. A season-ending showdown with the Cowboys looms large in the NFC East.
17. Dallas Cowboys
After one of the most pitiful defensive efforts of the season (from any team) this past week, the Cowboys will limp into their bye week.
The Cowboys bumbled their way around the field while Drew Brees went for 383 passing yards, and the Saints rushed for 242 yards in a 49-17 victory.
Few teams have needed a bye more than the Cowboys need this one.
18. Cleveland Browns
The Browns were idle on bye this week after Jason Campbell helped lead this team to a 24-18 victory over the Ravens to snap a three-game losing streak.
With a defense that is in the top four in yards allowed per pass and rush, Campbell's conservative and safe style will give this team an opportunity to win games.
19. St. Louis Rams
Where has that been all year?
The Rams pulled off one of the most shocking performances of the season when they whooped the Colts 38-8.
The defense that had many, like yours truly, touting its potential entering this season finally lived up to some of that hype by holding the Colts to eight points and just 18 rushing yards.
20. Baltimore Ravens
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Bengals in overtime on Sunday.
Before anyone gets carried away with thoughts of another late-season run to dominance for the Ravens, it must be pointed out that Baltimore still mustered just 189 yards of total offense that were gained at a pathetic 2.9 yards per rush and 2.8 yards per pass.
21. Miami Dolphins
Maybe the Dolphins should just give up on the season and start figuring out which direction this franchise is headed. The drama involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin has not only threatened the job security of coaches, but it has decimated an already weak offensive line.
While allowing the Buccaneers their first win of the season this past Sunday, the Dolphins rushed for two yards.
That's two total yards—not average—which is hard to believe.
22. Tennessee Titans
Speaking of teams that allowed an opponent the inaugural win of the season, the Titans fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars and have now lost four of five.
As if that isn't dismal enough, starting quarterback Jake Locker is hurt once again, which is discussed in the above video.
Sitting at 4-5, it is time to kiss the postseason goodbye in Tennessee.
23. Washington Redskins
At 3-6, the Redskins are just two games out of the NFC East lead.
While Robert Griffin III's return to form inspires hope that the Redskins can go on a run to get into the division race, the defense destroys them.
The Redskins are 23rd in yards allowed per rush and 30th in yards allowed per pass at 7.8.
Any hopes of the pass defense improving were dashed last week when the Vikings' Christian Ponder hit them for 8.3 yards per pass, as the Vikings won 34-27.
24. Buffalo Bills
A Bills season that started with some promise under first-year coach Doug Marrone has turned sour. Buffalo has lost three straight and last week was dominated against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that had struggled all season.
The Steelers are 28th in the NFL in yards per rush at 3.6. Yet the Bills allowed them to run for 136 yards at 4.1 yards per carry.
At least rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel was back and healthy.
25. New York Giants
Don't look now, but the Giants have won three straight. Sure, not one of those victories has come against a team with a winning record, but that is still a sign of progress for a team that lost its first six.
It is no coincidence that Eli Manning has thrown just one interception in the last three games after having thrown 15 in the first six.
26. Oakland Raiders
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is getting no protection, and he isn't making strides. He's thrown eight interceptions and just one touchdown over the last four games.
All the while, the Raiders have a horrid and league-worst mark with an 11.9 sacked percentage.
Also, the rush defense has been solid, but the pass defense is Swiss cheese. The Raiders are 31st in opponent completion percentage and 25th in opponent interception percentage.
The seat of the defensive-minded Dennis Allen is getting warm.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers
While its been an uncharacteristically rough season for the Steelers, Pittsburgh has now won three of its last five.
It would be getting carried away to think that is a sign that this team can make a run to the postseason. This team still has a dearth of offensive weapons and blocking.
Still, a solid close to the season could save some jobs and continuity in Pittsburgh.
28. Minnesota Vikings
After an embarrassing effort in a 23-7 loss to the Giants in Week 7, the Vikings have gotten increasingly improved performances over the past three games.
This past Sunday, that culminated with the team's second win of the season.
The pass defense remains a huge concern in Minnesota, but at least the offense is showing signs of improvement with 89 points over the last three games for a team that averages 24.4 on the season.
29. Atlanta Falcons
In case there were any doubters about just how far the Falcons have tumbled since last season, the Seahawks offered up a perfect example.
It was last season that the Falcons downed the Seahawks in the playoffs to advance to the NFC Championship Game. On Sunday, the Falcons fell 33-10 at home to the Seahawks in a game that never felt competitive.
The once powerful offense of the Falcons gained just 226 yards of offense against Seattle.
30. Houston Texans
This is a depressing part of the power rankings. Both the Falcons and Texans entered this season with so much hope. Now they both face a dark future filled with question marks.
With three of their next four games coming against either the Jaguars or the Raiders, the Texans have an opportunity to at least build a sense of confidence.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers earned their first victory of the season by beating the Dolphins 22-19.
That followed a solid performance in a narrow loss to the Seahawks in Seattle the previous week.
Greg Schiano still isn't likely to survive this season, but the fact that his team has not quit on him after the abysmal start certainly works in his favor.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Prior to beating the Tennessee Titans 29-27 this past Sunday, the Jaguars had not finished a game this season within single digits of their opponent.
I'm glad the struggling Jaguars got a mark in the win column because this team may not get another.
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