NFL Power Rankings Week 11: Patriots, Falcons Vie For Top, Who's No. 1?
They've finally done it.
For years, we've heard that the NFL loves parity, loves at the end of the season when almost half the league is still in a playoff race. Well 10 weeks into the 2010 campaign and the NFL's dreams have come true.
Entering Week 11, 18 of the league's 32 teams have a winning record. Seven other teams have a losing record but are still within two games of first place in those teams' respective divisions.
Another crazy weekend with the Giants losing at home to Dallas, Denver's blowout win against the Chiefs and the Eagles big win against the Redskin have left a bunch of two and three-loss teams fighting for the league's best record.
So which one emerges from the pack to take the top spot? Here are this week's power rankings.
32-21: Bringing Up the Rear
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32. Detroit: I know they've won two games, but losing to the only winless team in the NFL puts you down near or at the bottom in my book.
31. Carolina: It's not completely John Fox's fault that neither Matt Moore nor Jimmy Clausen have played particularly well this season. He'll probably be the one that ultimately pays for it though.
30. Buffalo: The Bills deserved a win and they finally got one at home against Detroit last week. More importantly for the future, they may have found a quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
29. Dallas: So that's how the Cowboys were supposed to play this year...
28. Cincinnati: In the midst of another losing season, Bengals fans are probably wondering what happened to the once-vaunted offense. Carson Palmer's never been the same since that playoff game.
27. Arizona: Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals maybe didn't realize just how good they had it with Kurt Warner as quarterback.
26. Minnesota: Three more picks from Brett Favre Sunday in Chicago; he's on pace for 28 interceptions this season, the most for him since 2005.
25. Washington: Not much to say after Monday Night. The ESPN post-game commentators had it right: take the game film, burn it, move on.
24. Denver: Broncos with a nice win against a suddenly struggling Kansas City squad as Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd continue their respective strong seasons.
23. San Francisco: A gut-check win for the 49ers, who still somehow are only two games out of first in the NFC West.
22. Houston: The way the Texans lost last week was an unlucky bounce and a fluke. Houston's defense, which has allowed the second most points in the league, is not.
21. St. Louis: Tough loss for the young Rams on the road, but still overachieving at 4-5 with a rookie quarterback.
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I know it might sound weird for a team that's 3-6 to be ranked this high, but anyone who's watched the Browns the last three weeks has seen the improvement. The wins in consecutive weeks against two of the league's better teams in New Orleans and New England were solid, but both wins could be seen as flukes.
But to come out against one of the best teams in the NFL, and to not only take the Jets to overtime but take them to the last seconds of overtime before being done in by poor tackling is commendable.
Colt McCoy did what few other quarterbacks have done in leading a game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter against the vaunted Jets secondary. If Chansi Stuckey doesn't fumble early in overtime, the Browns could have won last week.
It's okay, Cleveland. For the first time in a while, you can openly hope about your football team.
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What can you really say about Seattle.
In reality, they lead the awful NFC West by default as the only team in the division with a winning record thanks to a big win on the road at Arizona last week. But there's not much to love about this team.
The Seahawks leading rusher has 397 yards. Matt Hasselbeck only has seven touchdown passes. Mike Williams (yes, THAT Mike Williams) leads the team in catches and receiving yards, but only has one touchdown pass. All four of Seattle's losses have been of the blowout variety.
That being said, someone has to win this division and if the playoffs started today, it would be the Seahawks. Meanwhile, we can all try to figure out what's worse, some team from this division going to the playoffs, or said team getting to host a playoff game.
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The Bears can't run, there's no star receiver (no offense to Johnny Knox and Devin Hester), and when their quarterback isn't being permanently imprinted into the turf, he still has a problem throwing interceptions.
Still, Jay Cutler has more touchdown passes (12) than picks (six), and the Bears enter a Thursday night game at Miami off of a home win against the struggling Vikings and tied for first place with Green Bay. Bears fans can thank a stout run defense for that.
But this is a team still waiting for a signature win to stake its claim as one of the better teams in the NFC. With games against New England, Green Bay, the Jets and Philadelphia upcoming, Chicago will have a chance. Until then, I'm still skeptical
17. San Diego
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So, show of hands, who was worried about the Chargers three weeks ago?
Sure, the Bolts are still trying to find consistency in the running game in in year one A.T. (After Tomlinson), and Philip Rivers hasn't had receiver Vincent Jackson to throw to. But two wins and a bye week later, the Chargers bandwagon is filling up thanks to the faltering Chiefs and the unsureness behind the Raiders.
San Diego still has to fix an 0-2 record in the division, and it helps that both Oakland and Kansas City come to Qualcomm down the stretch. But with Antonio Gates having a monster year and the return of Jackson on the horizon, there's a sense that the Chargers might be getting on another late-season run
16. Kansas City
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Kansas City was one of the league's best stories during the first few weeks, streaking out to a 5-2 record while the rest of the AFC West struggled. But four losses in the last six weeks (two by a combined 10 points) have brought the Chiefs back down to earth, including a humbling 49-29 loss at Denver last week.
The Chiefs are not out of it yet, they're still tied for first place with Oakland. But the cracks may be starting to show, especially in the inexperienced secondary. Kansas City's run game will help keep the Chiefs alive, especially against Arizona's defense this week.
Kansas City is a young team that will be around for a long time. It just may not manifest itself this season.
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The Jaguars season has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride, losing two in a row before winning two in a row including last week's wild finish against Houston. With every peak and valley, coach Jack Del Rio's job security have gone right along with it. The subtle rumors that he could have been fired when the team was 3-4 have been silenced for now.
Now Jacksonville's 5-4, tied for second in the AFC West and alive in the playoff race entering a game with the resurgent Browns this week. If David Garrard can keep his level of play up, the Jaguars could be a big factor in the competitive AFC.
But the way this season has been going, expect a wild ride the rest of the way.
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Just like the Jaguars, the Titans have had an up-and-down season, trending down right now with last week's loss at Miami.
For all the hype surrounding his arrival in Music City, Randy Moss had a quite debut with only one catch for 26 yards. Though in his defense, the Titans quarterback position was in flux after Kerry Collins left with an injury and already banged-up starter Vince Young finishing the game.
But like the Chiefs, the Titans have lost two straight on the road and now come home in second place behind the Colts again. If there is a saving grace, it's that Chris Johnson should have a big day this week against a poor Washington run defense.
But Tennessee's fate will rest on how it fares down the stretch, with five divisional games in the last seven weeks.
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The Oakland Raiders are 5-4 and tied for first in the AFC West. Let me repeat that.
The Oakland Raiders are 5-4 and tied for first in the AFC West.
Yes it's true, Oakland comes off its bye week tied for first in the division after reeling off three straight wins, the last one a thrilling overtime victory over Kansas City. Jason Campbell is the quarterback for now, as the Raiders are riding the hot hand during their winning streak. But a big reason for the Raiders recent upturn has been the second ranked rush offense and a defense that's second best against the pass.
The recent change in Oakland's fortunes makes this week's meeting with Pittsburgh all the more entertaining.
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Does the name Tyler Thigpen ring a bell?
Kansas City knows him as the predecessor to Matt Cassel.
Miami now knows him as the Dolphins' new starting quarterback.
Thigpen takes over the starting spot after possible season-ending injuries to both Chad Henne and Chad Pennington in the Fins' win against Tennessee last week. But the former Coastal Carolina Chanticleer will make his first start in almost two years against one of the better defenses in the league under the lights in front of a national television audience.
Not to mention Chicago's defense is one of the toughest in the league against the run.
Long story short, Thigpen needs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to have big games Thursday to take the pressure off of him. Otherwise, it might be a long night.
11. Tampa Bay
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Back in October, Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said his team was the best in the NFC.
He rescinded that after a loss to Atlanta where Tampa fell off the lead in the NFC South, but there may just be something about this gutsy bunch. They may not have the dominating defense that came to be the franchises' calling card back in the late-90s, nor the balanced offense of veterans that helped the team win its only Super Bowl in 2002.
But after a win last week at home versus the Panthers, the Buccaneers do have a 6-3 record and a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman that has led two game-winning drives already this season.
Perhaps Morris was right about one thing. Maybe stats really are for losers.
10. New Orleans
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Whatever was ailing the defending Super Bowl Champions seems to have resolved itself the last two weeks.
After almost sleepwalking through the first seven games, the Saints have bounced back and looked more and more like the team that blazed through the league for most of last season. After the embarrassing loss at home to Cleveland, New Orleans responded with impressive wins over Pittsburgh and Carolina and come out of the bye with the Seahawks waiting for them this week.
New Orleans is still struggling on the ground, averaging less than 100 yards per game, but Drew Brees has been much sharper the last two weeks. Of course the test for the Saints will come next month, when New Orleans closes out the season with Baltimore, Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the last three weeks.
9. Green Bay
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Perhaps the best example of a team getting hot at the right time, the Packers come off a bye week on a three-game winning streak and a 45-7 blowout win over the Cowboys two weeks ago.
Of course, just like the Saints, many experts have wondered where the explosive Packers offense has gone. Like New Orleans, a lot of the offensive inconsistency stems from the lack of a running game after Ryan Grant was lost for the season. But the Dallas win proved the Packers can still put up points with Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
Now Green Bay will prepare for Favre Bowl IV, in Minnesota, against a Vikings squad desperate to save their season (but perhaps not their coach).
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It doesn't seem to matter, does it. Take away receivers, the starting running back, one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
As long as No. 18 is behind center, the Colts will keep winning.
Without Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark in the lineup last week, Indy still pulled out a victory against the struggling Bengals. But with the Colts biggest game of the year coming up, the perennial rivalry game against New England, Peyton Manning will need to have a big week.
Although he may get some help if Addai is able to return this week. Donald Brown was among those who picked up the slack in his absence.
7. New York Giants
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We've seen this script from the Giants before.
Slow start, then a strong surge in October and November, before struggling down the stretch and limping to either a wild card berth or out of the playoffs entirely.
Giants fans are hoping the home loss to Dallas last week wasn't the beginning of a downward spiral like last season. If nothing else, it added extra spice to an already heated rivalry game with the Eagles Sunday Night, one that will now be for first place in the NFC East.
But if Mike Vick has the same amount of success throwing the football as Jon Kitna did last week when he was lights out (before the lights actually went out), then it could be the beginning of the end of Big Blue's season.
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Could we be watching the MVP of the NFL.
Michael Vick definitely made his case on Monday Night, when he was the starring act of a historic offensive performance by the Eagles.
The first player in NFL history with 300 or more passing yards, 50 or more rushing yards, four or more passing touchdowns, and two or more rushing touchdowns in a single game. That's not including the 45 points the offense put up in the first half was a franchise record.
If there's a concern hovering over the Eagles, it's that the defense can be had, so to speak. The poor finishes against Detroit and Tennessee were big examples of the glaring holes in the secondary and the 28 points the Redskins put on the Eagles was the only blemish on Monday's victory. It could also be a problem down the line coming into the first-place showdown with the Giants.
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Last week's heartbreaking loss to Atlanta not withstanding, there's a lot to like about this year's edition of the Ravens.
For one, the stout run defense is still a hallmark of the defense, after Ray Lewis and Co. held the elusive Michael Turner under 40 yards in last week's loss. Despite his interception, Joe Flacco had one of his better games of the year, leading Baltimore back from an early deficit.
The Ravens should be heavy favorites heading into a meeting this week with Carolina. But the secondary, which was torched by the duo of Matt Ryan and Roddy White, could be a problem that undoes Baltimore's Super Bowl hopes down the line.
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For a defense that was dominant for most of the season, the Steelers have been exposed the last couple of weeks during this recent mini-skid.
First, the dormant Bengals almost pulled off a big comeback against Pittsburgh, then the Steelers were picked apart by Tom Brady in a loss to the Patriots last week that secured New England as one of the best teams in the AFC once again and dropped Pittsburgh back to 6-3 and a first-place tie with Baltimore.
This week will have the feel of one of those old highlight films from the 1970s, as the Steelers and Raiders renew their rivalry. And you can bet Pittsburgh will remember last season, when Oakland shocked Pittsburgh at home.
3. New York Jets
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Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News made the point in his Sunday column before last week's game that the Jets should be 4-4. Anyone who watched the Jets-Browns game last week could argue the Jets could be 4-5.
But they're not. Instead the fightin' Rex Ryans are 7-2 after another escape, this one when Santonio Holmes was able to break through Cleveland's weak tackling and score the winning touchdown in the final seconds of overtime. The Jets reward is a trip home and a meeting with the explosive but reeling Texans.
2. New England
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Tom Brady might be the king of doing more with less.
No Randy Moss, no running game, no problem. Brady and coach Bill Belichick just go into Pittsburgh with two unknown backs and a free agent kicker signed the week before and reeled off an impressive 39-26 victory against the Steelers that was not as close as the final score indicated.
Now Brady and Belichick take their bunch for another big game on the road, the Patriots' annual grudge match with Peyton Manning and the Colts. And if Brady can find Rob Gronkowski for three touchdowns like he did last week, then there may be no question who the best team in the AFC is.
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The last time Atlanta had a football team this good, the team's touchdown dance was better known than the players were.
That dance would be the "Dirty Bird", started by running back Jamal Anderson, who along with quarterback Chris Chandler led the Falcons to the Super Bowl. That was 1998.
These Falcons have a dynamic running back too in Michael Turner, though he's taken a backseat now to quarterback Matt Ryan, who is becoming the next star quarterback. It doesn't hurt to have a receiver like Roddy White, who's having a career year, and a dependable tight end in future hall-of-famer Tony Gonzalez.
These Falcons are very quietly becoming a dominant team at home and might just be the best team in football.