NFL Power Rankings: 49ers Ranked No. 23 To Start Season, Move Up to No. 2

Torey ZiskaCorrespondent IINovember 1, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers drops back to pass against the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter of an NFL football game at Candlestick Park on October 30, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

With the World Series complete, and the NBA lockout continuing, how thankful will everyone be this Thanksgiving that the NFL agreed to a new CBA and we have football? I mean I guess you could always watch hockey but… why would you want to do that?

Anyway, Week 8 has come and gone but not without a few surprises. The Steelers finally solved the Patriots, the Eagles embarrassed the Cowboys and the Rams handled the Saints (I’ll be sure to remind you of this fact numerous times).

Elsewhere, the Ravens overcome an enormous deficit at home and Tim Tebow, well, it wasn’t his finest hour in his first home start of the season. And would you believe, there is a team that could potentially clinch their division before Thanksgiving? Keep reading to find out who and see the rest of the rankings. This week's rankings go a little more in-depth for each team since we have reached the midway point. Tune in next week to see which teams I think will make the playoffs.


Teams’ previous ranking in ( ).


1.       Green Bay Packers (1): Coming off a bye, the Packers should be more than ready to tackle their next opponent, the San Diego Chargers. This could be the toughest remaining test standing in the way of a perfect season for the Pack. The defense has taken a step back this year—the loss of Nick Collins for the season cannot be overstated—but the offense continues to click and they are still the favorite to win it all.


2.       San Francisco 49ers (3): The 49ers continue to roll. Even though Alex Smith has played much better than in the past, one must wonder how scary this team might be with a proven quarterback. Nonetheless, the 49ers are 6-1 and have a legitimate shot at clinching their division before Thanksgiving. Regardless, they are well on their way to a division title and very possibly a first-round playoff bye.


3.       Pittsburgh Steelers (5): The Steelers are old. Those were the thoughts of many a few weeks ago. Now after four straight wins, including a fairly dominant performance against the Patriots, the Steelers are once again favorites to defend their AFC title. Even with key defensive players missing, the Steelers held New England to 17 points. It appears we might just be heading for a Super Bowl rematch.


4.       Detroit Lions (6): After two straight losses, the Lions regained their swagger with a 45-10 thrashing of the Broncos. The No. 4 spot may be a bit high for the Lions, especially after losing two home games to potential playoff teams. However, the Lions have proven they can hang with anyone. We will get our best judgment of this team come Thanksgiving when they host the Packers.


5.       New England Patriots (2): The Patriots looked very human against the Steelers and showed that if you shut down Wes Welker, the Patriots are very beatable. Nonetheless, at 5-2 the Patriots are still an AFC powerhouse that no one will enjoy facing in the playoffs. They need to improve their running game, however, if they want to beat the Steelers in a potential rematch in the postseason.


6.       New York Giants (7): I wanted to move the Giants lower after their near loss against the winless Dolphins. However in the end, the Giants did what good teams are supposed to do, and thus moved to 5-2 and now have a two-game lead in the division. We are going to find out very quickly what this team is made of, however, as their remaining schedule (the toughest in football) looks like this: at NE, at SF, vs. PHIL, at NO, vs. GB, at DAL, vs. WASH, at NYJ, vs. DAL. It is possible the Giants could win just one or two games the rest of the season.


7.       Baltimore Ravens (8): Add the Ravens to the list of teams that have pulled off miraculous comebacks this season. Trailing 24-3 against the Cardinals, the Ravens came storming back to win on a last-second field goal 30-27. Not exactly the performance you want to see from a defense like the Ravens, especially coming off an embarrassing loss to the Jags the week before. However, they came away with a win and the belief that they are never out of a game.


8.       Buffalo Bills (11): The Bills jump back into the top 10 with their shutout victory over the Redskins. The Bills are back in first place in the division but their toughest stretch is just about to begin as they host the Jets, and then face three consecutive road games. If they get through that stretch at 2-2, which is feasible, they are looking at a minimum of 10 wins and might just be playoff bound.


9.       Houston Texans (10): The Texans weathered the storm after two straight losses and have bounced back with two straight wins. Their remaining schedule is quite soft and with the return of Andre Johnson in the near future, they should be primed for their first playoff appearance in team history. They actually have a shot at running the table from here on out, as their toughest games will be against the Bengals, Falcons and Bucs. But because it is the Texans, we can probably safely assume they will lose a game or two that they should win.


10.   New Orleans Saints (4): If I had $10 million to my name, I’d have bet every penny of it that the Saints would beat the Rams. In fact, I probably would have bet on them to win handily. Thankfully I do not have $10 million or anywhere near it, because the Saints pulled off probably the most embarrassing loss of the season. After hanging 62 on the Colts, anything under 40 against the Rams would have been shocking. As it was, they scored just two offensive touchdowns, and that wasn’t even until the final quarter. The Saints were clearly looking past this game to their matchup next week against the Bucs. I don’t necessarily believe there are 10 teams better than the Saints, but if you lose (and almost get blown out) by the winless Rams (who are using a backup quarterback no less), you have to fall in the rankings, and you have to fall hard.


11.   San Diego Chargers (9): The Chargers have completely crashed. Luckily for them they are only one game out in a weak division. However, the Chiefs are rolling right now and if each team keeps it up, it won’t be long until the Chargers are looking up at Kansas City in the rankings as well. The Chargers still have plenty of time to right the ship, but facing the Packers next week is not the way to start.


12.   New York Jets (12): The Jets were off this week and it couldn’t have come at a better time as they face the Bills (twice) and the Patriots (once) in their next four games. The Jets must win two of these three division games if they want to make the playoffs. If they only win one, they will be 6-5 (I’m chalking up their Week 11 game against Denver as a win) with a few tough games left. Otherwise they will likely have to win their final five games to join the playoff party.


13.   Cincinnati Bengals (13): Yes, the Bengals have fewer losses than the Texans, Saints and Jets. Yes they beat the No. 8-ranked Bills. And yes, they manhandled a Seahawks team that many thought might be the upset of the week. But I just can’t put Cincinnati any higher. They have been a great story this year and if they hadn’t choked against Denver in Week 2, the Bengals might even be a playoff team. But right now, despite a great defense, they just aren’t as good as some of these other teams and I expect them to show it as they face the Steelers and Ravens here in a few weeks. If they beat those teams, they will easily move into the top 10.


14.   Chicago Bears (14): The Bears had the week off after two consecutive wins. They stand at 4-3 but have a tough schedule ahead of them. The Eagles, Lions and Chargers are their next three opponents, and they have a hot Kansas City team and an undefeated Green Bay team as well. The Bears are going to have to continue getting great play from their defense and must protect Jay Cutler if they want to return to the playoffs this season.


15.   Atlanta Falcons (15): The Falcons had a bye this week and have the pleasure of facing the Colts in Week 9. Atlanta is a tough team to figure out. They start the season with an embarrassing blowout loss to Chicago, and then rebound to hand the Eagles their first loss. Then their offense disappears against the Bucs. Then they hang on by a thread to beat the lowly Seahawks. Then a few weeks later they take down Detroit on the road. Overall the Falcons don’t look like the team that went 13-3 last year, but when they get it all figured out, they will be a tough team to beat. They face the Saints in two weeks, so maybe that will give us a better read on the Falcons. Then again, the Saints just lost to the Rams.


16.   Kansas City Chiefs (18): The Chiefs looked like the worst team in football in the first three weeks. Since then, they have played very well, reeling off four straight wins to take the division lead. Eventually, the losses of Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry is probably going to catch up to them. However, they can still defend their division title because the division is average at best. Don’t let these rankings fool you; just because the Chiefs are behind the Chargers, don’t think the Chargers are a lock for anything. The Chiefs have found their swagger and appear to be a legitimate playoff contender.


17.   Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17): The Bucs are another tough team to figure out. Last year their problem was beating good teams. They just couldn’t do it. This year, they have beaten a couple in the Falcons and Saints, but the Falcons are by no means elite, and the Saints, well, they just lost to the Rams (yes I am going to beat a dead horse on this topic). The other wins the Bucs have are against the Colts and Vikings. Hardly impressive. Their three losses have all come against winning teams: The Bears, Lions and 49ers. Perhaps we will get a better idea in the next few weeks as the Bucs face the Saints for a second time, as well as the Texans and Packers.


18.   Philadelphia Eagles (22): The Eagles jump up six spots after their beatdown of the Cowboys this week. Their ground game is one of the best in football and the defense really got it going. That is the team most people expected to see all season long. At 3-4, however, the Eagles must continue to win. I think the Eagles will continue to play this way, and find themselves in the playoffs, which is bad news for Packers fans. If there is any team in the NFC that could give Green Bay problems, it’s the Eagles.


19.   Oakland Raiders (19): The Raiders had a bye this week and Raider Nation can only hope that Carson Palmer spent his time off in a room by himself with nothing other than his playbook. There is no doubt Palmer has the ability to step in and improve the Raiders passing game and help them get to the playoffs. However, there is also no doubt he has the ability to step in, throw three interceptions a game and run this team straight out of the playoff picture. It will be interesting to see the results after Palmer has had some time with his receivers.


20.   Tennessee Titans (20): It’s intriguing to think how good Tennessee could be if Chris Johnson was playing like, well, Chris Johnson. They certainly wouldn’t have lost by two to the Jags and their 41-7 loss against the Texans could potentially have been a very different outcome. Regardless, the Titans are 4-3 with absolutely no production from their star (43 rushing yards per game) player. With a pretty tough remaining schedule, it is difficult to see the Titans making any kind of playoff push unless the Texans falter, or Johnson returns to form immediately. Unfortunately for Tennessee fans, neither is likely to happen.


21.   Dallas Cowboys (16): Well I guess the silver lining for Cowboys fans is that this time, they didn’t lose a heartbreaker. Nope, they were manhandled from the opening kickoff to the final play of the game. Nonetheless, the Cowboys are still in decent shape, assuming they don’t blow any games they should win. Their next five games are all winnable, with the toughest contest coming at home against the Bills. If Dallas takes care of business, they will be 8-4 with three of their final four games against divisional opponents.


22.   Jacksonville Jaguars (21): After an impressive effort against the Ravens on Monday night, the Jags couldn’t repeat their performance against the Texans after a short week. Blaine Gabbert is not improving on a weekly basis, and if anything is actually getting worse. This isn’t fair to Gabbert though, as many NFL quarterbacks would struggle if they were throwing to high school receivers. Things are looking up for the Jags though, if that’s possible, as their next two games (despite being on the road) are winnable as they face the Colts and Browns.


23.   Cleveland Browns (23): Speaking of the Browns, they are at 3-4 and quite frankly, there isn’t much to say about them. Their defense is surprisingly good (5th overall) but considering the teams they have faced, it’s much less impressive. Outside of Colt McCoy, the injured Peyton Hillis, and the inconsistently electric Joshua Cribbs, can you name anyone on this team? I’m willing to bet outside of Ben Watson, you wouldn’t be able to name three players without cheating. In fact, I’m not even sure a diehard Browns fan could name more than five or six. The Browns stink and with the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals in their division, it looks like they could stink for years to come.


24.   Carolina Panthers (24): Another tough loss to swallow for the Panthers. Of their six losses, only one has been by more than a touchdown. At this point, they might as well continue to lose and gain the highest possible draft pick they can. They need some help on defense. They play in a very good division but I see no reason why this team couldn’t compete for a playoff spot next season if they can fix a couple of defensive issues. If they choose not to go defense in the draft, they have to find the most explosive wide receiver they can. It is clear Cam Newton’s throwing ability is going to be just fine, and Steve Smith simply isn’t going to be able to play forever.


25.   Washington Redskins (25): The Redskins may have hit rock bottom this week as they were shut out—the first time Mike Shanahan has ever been shut out as a coach. Similar to the Browns, this is a team people probably can’t name more than a few players—unless you’re an avid fantasy football player that is constantly having to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill in for players on bye. The Redskins went from being one of the bigger surprise stories to one of the worst teams in the NFL faster than any team in recent memory.


26.   Minnesota Vikings (28): Yes, the Vikings beat the Panthers. Yes, the Vikings have the same record as the Panthers. And yes, the Vikings (just like the Panthers) have only one loss that has been by more than a touchdown. So why are the Vikings ranked lower? It took me a while to think of a good solid reason, and I simply don’t have one. It’s just the way I feel. However after some research, I did notice that the Panthers are better – statistically at least. Carolina is 5th overall on offense compared to 18 for the Vikes, and 16th overall on defense compared to 21st for the Vikes. These teams could play 100 times, and you would figure each team would probably win about 50.


27.   St. Louis Rams (30): The Rams added to a magical week in the city of St. Louis by beating the heavily favored Saints by 10—though it really wasn’t even that close. The Rams were up 24-0 in the third quarter and didn’t give up an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter. Steven Jackson turned back the clock a few years as he ran for 159 yards and two scores on 25 carries. A.J. Feeley filled in admirably for Sam Bradford, throwing for 175 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions. The Rams aren’t going anywhere this year, but have a chance to gain some respectability as their next three opponents are the Cardinals, Browns and Seahawks.


28.   Seattle Seahawks (26): The Seahawks are a disaster and going to the same place the Rams are—nowhere. Seattle does have one more win than the Rams, and probably more talent, but beating the Saints is more impressive to me than beating the Giants and Cardinals. Regardless, the Seahawks (and Rams) are two of the worst teams in the league. Luckily for them, they aren’t even the worse team in the division. Seattle should have a pretty high draft pick in the upcoming draft, because it’s hard to see them winning more than two more games the rest of the season. One more thing drives me nuts about the Seahawks. They’ve hardly used Zach Miller, the tight end they got in the offseason from the Raiders. He was a force with Oakland and has a total of 13 catches for less than 100 yards in seven games. Throw the man the football.


29.   Denver Broncos (27): Tebow and the Broncos were brought back to earth by the Lions this week after their magical fourth-quarter comeback against Miami last week. Tebow completed under 50 percent of his passes, and threw for just 172 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, was sacked seven times and fumbled three times, losing one which was also returned for a touchdown. Last week’s performance against Miami was impressive, but you have to believe that for every game Tebow has like that, he will have 20 of the ones he had against the Lions. I’ve said it all along and I’ll continue to say it, Tim Tebow is not an NFL quarterback.


30.   Arizona Cardinals (29): It’s been a great year to be a Cardinal; well the baseball kind anyway. After a brief delay to discuss the Broncos, we get back to the NFC West, which boasts three of the league’s worst six teams in this week’s rankings. The Cardinals appeared to have gotten things headed in the right direction as they led the Ravens 24-6 at halftime. Unfortunately, Arizona scored just three points in the second half and dropped their sixth straight game. The Cardinals do have the Rams this week, which is a good chance for them to snap their skid, but of course, the Rams just beat the Saints, so it won’t be easy for the Cards.


31.   Miami Dolphins (31): “Suck for Luck” is quickly gaining speed, as the Dolphins blew a fourth quarter lead for the second consecutive week. The Dolphins going 0-16 is becoming a distinct possibility. They only have three chances in my eyes to get wins the rest of the season, and even those games might be wishful thinking as they would have to beat either the Chiefs, Redskins or Raiders. However, the Dolphins are not a lock to get that No. 1 overall pick, because they have some fierce competition when it comes to losing football games…


32.   Indianapolis Colts (32): After giving up 62 a week ago, the Colts toned it down, allowing just 27 this week. They too have a legitimate shot at going 0-16. Their only winnable games remaining include two against the Jags and one against the Panthers, and none of those are surefire bets to say the least. It would be interesting to see the Colts get the first pick, simply because I’m not sure they would take Andrew Luck. They are keeping Peyton Manning out to try and get him completely healthy. If he is able to do so successfully, they have to figure he has a good five years left in him. I can’t see them drafting Luck just to have him sit and wait around for five or more years. It’s too bad we can’t set up a game between the Colts and Dolphins to determine the biggest loser of 2011, but the biggest winner of the 2012 draft.