Fueled by a three-game winning streak, WR Steve Breaston and the Arizona Cardinals are moving up our NFL Power Rankings
This is one of my favorite times on the NFL calendar: right before the midway part of the season. Teams are starting to separate into “contenders” and “pretenders” and each week certain teams are getting closer to the playoffs, while others get closer to preparing for the 2010 NFL Draft.
In looking at the current NFL standings, here’s the breakdown:
The “Elite” – Broncos (6-0), Saints (6-0), Colts (6-0), Vikings (6-1), Steelers (5-2), Bengals (5-2), and Patriots (5-2).
“Teams on the Cusp” — Giants (5-2), Falcons (4-2), Cowboys (4-2), Cardinals (4-2) and Eagles (4-2).
“Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and either need to join the playoff hunt or fall back – Jets (4-3), Texans (4-3), Jaguars (3-3), Bears (3-3), Niners (3-3), Ravens (3-3), and Chargers (3-3).
The “Pretenders”, who are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Bills (3-4), Dolphins (2-4), Seahawks (2-4), and Panthers (2-4).
And lastly, the “Putrid” (i.e. these teams should just skip to the 2010 NFL Draft) – Redskins (2-5), Raiders (2-5), Chiefs (1-6), Browns (1-6), Lions (1-5), Rams (0-7), Buccaneers (0-7), and Titans (0-6).
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Colts (6-0) – In the return of Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, head coach Jim Caldwell’s team thumped the winless Rams for their 15th straight regular season win. At least the poor Rams were able to end Peyton Manning’s 300-yard passing game streak at six games. Next up for the NFL’s most efficient team is hosting the inconsistent Niners and their new quarterback, Alex Smith.
2. Saints (6-0) – “Who Dat, Who Dat is gonna beat them Saints”…it appears no one, right now. The Saints further legitimized themselves by coming back from 21 points down to beat the physical, hard-running Dolphins. The Superdome will be rocking as NFC South rival, the Atlanta Falcons, come to town for a huge Monday Night Football extravaganza.
3. Broncos (6-0) – Head coach Josh McDaniels’ ascending squad continued their unbeaten ways as they rested up during a much-needed bye week. In a highly anticipated physical football game, the Broncos will travel east to face an angry and rested Ravens team.
4. Steelers (5-2) – The Men of Steel made it four wins in a row as their defense rose to the occasion and helped give the Vikings and venerable quarterback Brett Favre their first “L” of the season. Mike Tomlin’s team gets a timely bye week to heal-up for the second half of their Super Bowl Champion defense season.
5. Vikings (6-1) – Driven by All-World running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikes were on the verge of producing their seventh straight win. However, they got too bogged down in the red zone and the Steelers won, fueled by their defense. In probably the most hyped NFL reunion game ever—Thanks ESPN—No. 4 will return to Lambeau to face a Packers squad looking to avenge a loss to the Vikes earlier this season.
6. Patriots (5-2) – The Patriots returned to Merry Ole England to give English NFL fans a glimpse of their version of the “Boston Massacre,” as the winless Tampa Bay Bucs didn’t have a chance. After a long flight back across the Atlantic, the Patriots can give their many veterans over 30 a much-needed rest during the bye.
7. Bengals (5-2) - Revenge-minded RB Cedric Benson showed the Chicago Bears that they made a big mistake as the Bengals had a surprisingly easy victory over the Bears. The bye week should give loquacious WR Chad Ochocinco the opportunity to tweet away to his many followers.
8. Cardinals (4-2) – The Cards proved that there is no kryptonite on the Eastern Coast as QB Kurt Warner led them over the Giants in a physical game. The Cardinals will host the reeling Carolina Panthers in a rematch of last year’s divisional round playoffs, when Arizona embarrassed Carolina 33-13.
9. Giants (5-2) – After their second straight loss to another contending NFC team, this time the Cardinals, everyone is wondering if the G-Men fattened up on too many early season cupcakes. The classic NYC-Philadelphia rivalry will be on full display in the “City of Brotherly Love” as the Phils meet the Yanks in the World Series and Big Blue will battle the Birds at the Linc.
10. Packers (4-2) – Quietly, the Packers are showing that they are a dangerous team and this week they took care of business against the horrible Cleveland Browns. QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ faithful will need to keep a lid on their emotions as former Packers legend Brett Favre returns to Lambeau for an ultimate NFL grudge match.
11. Eagles (4-2) – It was by no means a pretty sight, but the Eagles, fueled by some big plays from WR DeSean Jackson and newcomer LB Will Witherspoon, put away the descending Redskins and their beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn on Monday Night Football . In a statement game, the Birds and QB Donovan McNabb will battle their hated NFC East rival, the NY Giants.
12. Cowboys (4-2) – In a statement game, the Cowboys stepped back into the NFC East hunt as they got offensive with the Atlanta Falcons in their second straight win. If the Cowboys want to prove their consistency and avoid a letdown, WR Miles Austin and the ‘Boys will need to take care of business at home against the reeling Seahawks.
13. Falcons (4-2) – The Cowboys used their bye week to get ready for Matty Ice and the Falcons as they thumped them in Big D. Mike Smith’s Dirty Birds will need to put last week behind them as they travel to Bourbon Street to face hated NFC South rival, the New Orleans Saints, on Monday Night Football .
14. Jets (4-3) – It was so easy in a win at Oakland for rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the J-E-T-S that the young signal-caller had time to chow-down on a hot dog on the sidelines. Next up is an AFC East grudge match as the Jets host the run-happy Miami Dolphins.
15. Texans (4-3) – You never know which Texans team is going to show, but this week RB Steve Slaton and the rest of the gang came to play in an entertaining win over the Niners. In a game to see who can jump from the NFL’s parity-filled middle, the Texans travel to Western New York to face an equally confounding Bills squad.
16. Bears (3-3) – It wasn’t even close as the Bengals, led by motivated RB Cedric Benson, feasted on the Bears in Cincy. In a classic Midwest Battle that the Bears better not lose, the lowly Cleveland Browns will come to Soldier Field looking for their latest loss.
17. Ravens (3-3) – John Harbaugh’s team probably used their bye week to lick their wounds from three straight losses. Look for a motivated Ravens squad to return from their bye as they host the undefeated Denver Broncos in a matchup of two young, energetic coaches.
18. 49ers (3-3) – The Niners waited too late to go with former first-rounder Alex Smith in a loss to the Texans that probably burned Niners head coach Mike Singletary’s britches. San Francisco will look for fellow first-rounder Michael Crabtree, emerging TE Vernon Davis, and new starter Smith to breakout as they travel to Indy to face the dominant Colts.
19. Jaguars (3-3) – Hopefully during their bye week, the Jags found some consistency, as they have been too up and down this season. In a must-win game, the Jags will try to avoid a letdown against the struggling host Tennessee Titans.
20. Chargers (3-3) – In a game where only a win was acceptable, the Chargers thumped the Chiefs, leading RB Larry Johnson to lose his mind. In an AFL old-time grudge match special, the Oakland Raiders will surely be an inhospitable host to the Chargers.
21. Bills (3-4) – Just when you thought the Bills and their head coach Dick Jauron were gonna be cooked like some hot wings, they pulled a surprise with a convincing road win over the Carolina Panthers. In a game pitting the NFL’s current superstar receiver (Texans' Andre Johnson) versus the fantasy football former best receiver (Bills' Terrell Owens), Buffalo will host Houston in a “loser leaves town” match.
22. Seahawks (2-4) – The Hawks dearly needed a bye week as their roster was starting to look like a MASH unit. The rested Seahawks will look to spoil the Cowboys' current win streak (two) when they travel to Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar playpen.
23. Panthers (2-4) – After a bad home loss to the Bills, it may finally be time for the Panthers to pull the plug on NFL interceptions leader Jake Delhomme (13 INTs). The Panthers will look for revenge for last season’s playoff debacle as they travel west to face the ascending Arizona Cardinals.
24. Dolphins (2-4) – After jumping out to an early 21-point lead, fueled by rejuvenated RB Ricky Williams, the Dolphins let the Saints fight back for a hard-earned victory. Next up is a trip to the Meadowlands to face AFC East rival, the New York Jets.
25. Redskins (2-4) – The Philadelphia Eagles played ugly, but the Redskins were even worse in another bad loss that surely is another nail in the coffin of melancholy head coach Jim Zorn. If Zorn and the rest of the Redskins are smart, they will leave town during their bye week, as their fans are seeing red over one of the NFL’s ugliest situations.
26. Raiders (2-5) – One week after shocking the Philadelphia Eagles, it was the same old Raiders as the Jets came to town and gave Al Davis’ team a 35-0 shutout thumping. We will have to see if formerly benched quarterback JaMarcus Russell and the Raiders can rebound as they travel to face-off against AFC West rival, the San Diego Chargers.
27. Chiefs (1-6) – The Chargers were not having any upset talk, as they quickly disposed of the reeling Chiefs. During their bye week, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley will need to figure out how to keep a lid on unproductive, nasty-tweeting RB Larry Johnson.
28. Lions (1-5) – The Lions and aching stars QB Matt Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson probably got some rest during their bye week. In truly the NFL’s “Toilet Bowl,” the Lions will host the winless St. Louis Rams in a game that will have implications at the 2010 NFL Draft.
29. Browns (1-6) – The Packers put a beat-down on the host Dawgs as each week we find out just how “bad” the Browns really are. In a game that only NFL legends George “Papa Bear” Halas and Paul Brown could love, the Bears will host the Browns.
30. Titans (0-6) – During the bye week, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher tried valiantly to stand by QB Kerry Collins, but it is only a matter of time before owner Bud Adams gets his wish and VY is back in the starting lineup. This week is as good as any for the Titans to finally get a “W” as the inconsistent Jacksonville Jaguars come to town.
31. Rams (0-7) – Let’s face it…Steve Spanuolo’s squad shouldn’t even be allowed to stay in the same hotel as the Indianapolis Colts. In another ho-hum win, the Colts and Robo-Quarterback Peyton Manning thumped the Lambs. Next up is the “Toilet Bowl,” as the Rams look to get off the schnide when they travel to Motown in search of a win over the Lions.
32. Buccaneers (0-7) –The poor Bucs must have made fans in London, England throw-up their fish and chips, as they were destroyed by the New England Patriots in the NFL’s third regular season trip overseas. During the bye week, the Bucs better get youngster quarterback Josh Freeman ready, because there is nothing else to play for at this point in the season.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)