The Real Power Rankings
* Previously I have paid too much attention to a team's performance much earlier in the season when ranking teams. For the rest of the year, I will base my power rankings on current performance and if I think they would beat any team below them on a neutral field.
1. Indianapolis Colts (9-0) Previous Rankings: 7, 1, 2, 2
What a comeback they had against New England. That's why Peyton Manning will be known as one of the best to ever play the game. Was there ever any doubt that the Colts were scoring when they got the ball?
They appear to be on the fast track to the Super Bowl. Any team with a proficient passing attack will cause their shallow secondary problems, but they proved that they can overcome their difficulties in the Pats game, and really, all season long.
2. New Orleans Saints (9-0) Previous Rankings: 2, 2, 1, 1
The Saints started the season off winning, and winning BIG. Now they are still winning, but winning very ugly.
New Orleans has suffered scares against some fairly mediocre teams in the past few weeks, but that's all they were. Scares. They are still undefeated and rolling to home field advantage in the playoffs. However, injuries are finally catching up to them, and the offense is slowing down more and more every week.
Teams are finally figuring out New Orleans. They are due for a loss very soon.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) Previous Rankings: 18, 15, 9 7
If there were still any Bengals doubters out there going into Sunday, they are surely gone now.
Not just any team wins back-to-back games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh like Cincy did. Only very, very good teams can do that. And that's what the Bengals are: a very, very good team.
They get the nod over Minnesota at 3 because of the teams they've beaten.
Minnesota has had one of the easiest schedules in the league so far. Cincy has beaten Baltimore twice, Pittsburgh twice, Green Bay on the road, Chicago at home, and Cleveland on the road. Their losses were to Denver (when they were playing good football+extra fluky play) and Houston at home.
Minnesota has beaten Cleveland, Detroit (twice), San Francisco, Green Bay (twice), Baltimore, and St. Louis. They were beaten by Pittsburgh. Cincinnati hasn't lost to any of the teams that Minnesota has played. Cincy is just the better team at the moment.
4. Minnesota Vikings (8-1) Previous Rankings: 8, 4, 4, 3
Brett Favre somehow continues to play well every week, despite being 40 years old. He's having one of the best seasons of anybody in the league right now. He's also found a definite, number one target in Sidney Rice. What a year both of those guys are having.
5. New England Patriots (6-3) Previous Rankings: 12, 6, 5, 5
Can't blame the Pats too much for the loss at Indy. A bad coaching call gave Indy that game, not to say that Peyton Manning couldn't have driven 60-70 yards for the win if they punted, but it definitely would have been tougher than the 30 yards that he did go for the win.
Brady and Moss are back to being the best QB-WR combo in the league and will continue to make beautiful music together.
New England plays New Orleans in a few weeks. We'll see how Moss and Brady do to that injured secondary.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) Previous Rankings: 9, 12, 8, 6
Pittsburgh's defense is playing as well as anybody's right now, and their offense is playing fairly well too. Every game that they've lost, they were in until the end of the game.
Their offensive line remains a big problem, and they'll have a tough time continuing to win if they keep letting teams get to Ben. The defense won't be able to beat the Colts or Patriots (or Bengals or Chargers) by themselves.
7. San Diego Chargers (6-3) Previous Rankings: 10, 14, 15, 12
Just when San Diego was counted out and Denver was crowned the class of the AFC West, San Diego wins four in a row, and Denver loses three in a row. Guess who the Chargers get a date with next? The Broncos. The game will decide who is really the class of the division, and it's very hard to believe that San Diego will lose as well as they are playing right now.
Shawn Merriman and Shaun Phillips are finally getting in quarterbacks' faces all game long, and that has been a big part of their winning streak. Playing Oakland, Kansas City, and a reeling New York Giants team might have helped too.
Whatever be the case of their wins, the Chargers are playing well on every level and are a scary team right now.
8. Arizona Cardinals (6-3) Previous Rankings: 17, 20, 16, 16
It's impossible to tell what this team is really like, but they sure have played well in their past two games. As bad as Chicago is playing, not just anybody goes into to Soldier Field and beats them as bad as the Cardinals did.
When the Cardinals play well, they can beat any team in the league. The scary part about them is that now their running game is getting going, and Anquan Boldin is getting healthy.
Arizona could turn into a NFC favorite by the time the playoffs roll around.
9. Baltimore Ravens (5-4) Previous Rankings: 1, 5, 11, 10
The defense has killed the bad teams they've faced and struggles against the good teams, but they just have too much talent to continue to play .500 football.
Joe Flacco will be a fixture in Baltimore for a while, and although he has struggled for a few weeks now, he will get out of that slump, and the Ravens will start putting up points.
Their defense can only get better as well. A squad featuring Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed will not keep playing like they have so far this year.
10. Houston Texans (5-4) Previous Rankings: 15, 19, 18, 10
Houston has had a killer stretch in the past five weeks. Except for Buffalo, they've faced four playoff caliber teams: Indianapolis, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Arizona. They've only won two of those games, but both were on the road and came down to last minute mistakes.
Things can only go uphill from here, and they're already 5-4. The second half schedule isn't favorable by any stretch, but it's easier than the killer stretch they've just endured.
11. Dallas Cowboys (6-3) Previous Rankings: 14, 17, 20, 11
Just when the Cowboys have everybody thinking they are good, they fall on their faces. They were completely dominated by Green Bay, only scoring a junk TD late in the game.
This team has always been flat when they play in big games and are underdogs under Wade Phillips. He is a just a bad coach. It's not hard to tell that his players don't get pumped up for him.
Romo keeps adding to his big game anti-legend.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) Previous Rankings: 16, 13, 13, 8
The Eagles are one of the most difficult teams to figure out. They beat the Giants by 23, lost by 7 to a team that beat the Giants by 1, also lost to the Cowboys at home.
The Eagles always seem difficult to figure out, like Andy Reid's late game coaching decisions or picking up Mike Vick for him to watch from the sidelines.
The Eagles will struggle in the second half without Westbrook, whose career might be in jeopardy after a second concussion in as many games. He is a vital part of their offense and will likely miss the rest of their games. It's hard to see them making any noise in the playoffs (if they get there) without Westbrook.
13. Green Bay Packers (5-4) Previous Rankings: 19, 16, 10, 14
It's clear that the Packers have talent, they just give up way too many sacks. When Rodgers is protected even sort of well, the Packers play very, very well. Their defense has a bunch of playmakers and can cause any team fits. Charles Woodson is playing at the top of his game right now. The key for Green Bay is to protect Rodgers. If they can do that, they will likely be playing football in January.
14. Carolina Panthers (4-5) Previous Rankings: 22, 25, 21, 21
The Panthers have gone back to their roots and have been running the ball down their opponents throats. DeAngelo Williams somehow still doesn't get mentioned with the Adrian Petersons and Chris Johnsons of the world, even though he is more consistent and really just as talented.
The Panthers will be very dangerous down the stretch.
15. Atlanta Falcons (5-4) Previous Rankings: 5, 10, 7, 13
Losing Michael Turner is a bigger injury than it seems because of how bad Matt Ryan is playing. He's already thrown more picks this season than he did all of last year. He's been a little overrated this season because of being a decent (yes, he was not great in his rookie season) quarterback as a rookie. The Falcons should be okay, but Ryan really needs to start playing better.
16. Tennessee Titans (3-6) Previous Rankings: 20, 22, 30, 24
Right now, Chris Johnson is the best running back in the league. He's killing every defense he faces. He's averaging over 200 all purpose yards per game since the Titans bye. Not coincidentally, they have been 3-0 since their bye.
Vince Young and an improved defense have also been big contributing factors for their turnaround. The Titans have an easy schedule the rest of the way. It is not inconceivable that they could win out.
Rest of the Pack
17. Denver Broncos (6-3) Previous Rankings: 13, 7, 3, 4
18. New York Giants (5-4) Previous Rankings: 3, 3, 6, 17
19. Miami Dolphins (4-5) Previous Rankings: 27, 21, 17, 19
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) Previous Rankings: 26, 18, 23, 25
21. San Francisco 49ers (4-5) Previous Rankings: 6, 9, 14, 18
22. New York Jets (4-5) Previous Rankings: 4, 8, 19, 20
23. Chicago Bears (4-5) Previous Rankings: 11, 11, 12, 15
24. Seattle Seahawks (4-5) Previous Rankings: 23, 23, 22, 23
25. Washington Redskins (3-6) Previous Rankings: 25, 24, 26, 28
26. St. Louis Rams (1-8) Previous Rankings: 32, 32, 32, 29
27. Buffalo Bills (3-6) Previous Rankings: 21, 26, 29, 22
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8) Previous Rankings: 28, 29, 31, 32
29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-7) Previous Rankings: 29, 31, 25, 27
30. Detroit Lions (1-8) Previous Rankings: 30, 27, 27
31. Oakland Raiders (2-7) Previous Rankings: 24, 30, 24, 26
32. Cleveland Browns (1-8) Previous Rankings: 31, 28, 28, 31
Five Surprises from Week 10
1. Cincinnati completing the four game sweep of Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the teams that made up last January's AFC title game. Cincy is just flat out good.
2. The amazing slew of injuries to big name guys. The extent of most of the injuries are not known yet, but Brian Westbrook and Jordan Gross are most likely done for the season.
3. Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth and two from deep in his own territory. Even a coaching genius like Belichick can't get a pass on that one. A horrible decision.
4. St. Louis giving the Saints a competitive game. How does a team blowout the Eagles in Philly and come so close to a loss against the Rams? The Patriots are coming to New Orleans in two weeks; the Saints better start playing like they're an undefeated team or they'll get stomped all over by New England.
5. The Broncos continual collapse. This is the team most of us thought the Broncos were when the season started. A few weeks ago a division crown seemed inevitable, now an 8-8 record is a real possibility.
Five Best Games of the Week
1. Indianapolis vs. New England
A great game was expected and a great game was delivered. Classic Manning and Classic Brady were on display (Classic Belichick was not) in a game that truly came down to the wire. What a game.
2. New York Jets vs. Jacksonville
When a team wins on a field as time expires that's usually a pretty good game. Also, when Maurice Jones-Drew is involved, it's exciting.
3. Miami vs. Tampa Bay
Tampa almost came up with a second straight comeback win. A Dan Carpenter field goal with seconds left ended those hopes.
4. Carolina vs. Atlanta
Jonathan Stewart's 45 yard scamper with about two minutes left ended this game, but it was a very close one throughout. A two point conversion by Atlanta would have tied it with about three minutes remaining.
5. Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
The close score and quality of the teams might qualify this game as better than the fifth of the week, but nobody wants to watch a game without an offensive TD. It's not TV friendly football.
Five "WOW" Performances
1. Chris Johnson (26 rushes, 132 yards, 2 TDs, 9 catches, 100 yards)
Adrian Peterson is widely considered the best back in football, but it really needs to be reconsidered. The fact is, Peterson has a fumbling problem, Johnson is a better pass catcher, and he is faster. Those things tell me that CJ is the better back. Johnson has the makings of Barry Sanders Part II.
2. Bengals defense (12 points allowed, no TD's allowed vs. Pittsburgh)
What a unit Mike Zimmer and Marvin Lewis have trained this season. The Bengals have been one of the leagues stingiest defenses all season long and just dominated the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
It's about as common as finding a crocodile in Canada to play better defense than Pittsburgh when they don't allow an offensive touchdown, but that's what the Bengals did. The Bengals are beating Baltimore and Pittsburgh at their own game this year.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew (24 rushes, 123 yards, 1 TD, 2 catches, 22 yards)
MJD might be the most likable guy in the league. He actually said he was sorry to fantasy owners of himself for taking a knee at the one yard line to run the clock down so Jacksonville could kick a field goal as time expired.
MJD plays fantasy himself, and probably owns himself as well, so he was probably as mad as anybody. Every football player want' to get into the end zone as much as possible, so it was undoubtedly a tough moment to swallow for Drew when his coach told him to take a knee at the one if he broke free on a run. He did take the knee, and the Jags won the game. I'm sure Jones-Drew is as happy as anybody was on Monday morning, even if he didn't get those extra fantasy points.
4. Steven Jackson (26 rushes, 131 yards, 1 TD, 9 catches, 45 yards)
He might play for a 1-8 team, but Jackson is a stud. On any other team he could be leading the league in rushing (he is currently fourth). Teams know that the Rams are going to run 25-30 times per game with Jackson and still cannot stop him.
Only Peterson may be more physically gifted than the 6'2" 230 pound Jackson. The guy is beast.
5. Peyton Manning (28/44, 327 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT)
Another game, another two-minute drill, another W. Winning is to Peyton Manning as fish are to water. When is he going to slow down?
Five Things to Watch for Next Week
1. Will the injuries alter the playoffs races significantly?
2. San Diego and Denver battle it out in Denver this Sunday. The division title hangs in the balance.
3. Jacksonville could likely be two games above .500 after playing Buffalo at home on Sunday. Is Jacksonville a sleeper playoff team?
4. Cincinnati goes to Houston to likely improve to 8-2. Indy has tough game against Baltimore. Could the Bengals make a run a home field advantage?
5. If New Orleans struggles against Tampa, major problems are at hand. Saints fans might have to wait even longer to see their team finally play in the Super Bowl.
End of the year, If I had to pick...
MVP: Peyton Manning
Offensive Player of the Year: Chris Johnson
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Freeney
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Percy Harvin
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Brian Cushing
Comeback Player of the Year: Tom Brady
Coach of the Year: Marvin Lewis
AFC Divisional Champions (in seed order): Indianapolis, Cincinnati, New England, San Diego
AFC Wild Cards: Pittsburgh, Baltimore
NFC Divisional Champions: New Orleans, Minnesota, Arizona, New York Giants
NFC Wild Cards: Dallas, Philadelphia
AFC Champion: San Diego
NFC Champion: Minnesota
Super Bowl Champion (MVP): San Diego (Rivers)