For the first time in my personal history of doing power rankings, the top four teams all come from the NFC. It appears there has been a power shift this season, as in recent years, the AFC has been considered the dominant conference.
The Green Bay Packers maintain their hold on the No. 1 spot as they have since they won last year’s Super Bowl. The Packers are clearly the class of the NFL, but they are not as invincible as they may seem.
Elsewhere around the league, panic is setting in for Patriots fans while excitement continues to grow in Houston.
As promised last week, in addition to this week’s rankings, I will give my predictions as to where each team will finish the season, including my prediction of a top-five team missing the playoffs.
So with that, here are this week’s rankings (don’t forget, Week 10 starts the weekly Thursday night game!).
Teams’ previous ranking in ( ).
1. Green Bay Packers (1): The Packers’ defensive woes were on full display against the Chargers. If they don’t get that fixed, at least to some extent, they will not go 16-0 (unless of course they can put up 45 points a week, which I wouldn’t bet against). They face a huge trap game this week as they face the Vikings on Monday Night Football. The Vikes gave them everything they could handle in their first matchup, and with a week off, you can be sure they will be ready.
Playoff Prediction: NFC North Division Champions
2. San Francisco 49ers (2): To be a great football team, you must win on the road. Thus far, San Francisco is 4-0 in that department with each of those trips being across the country. If they can travel to Baltimore and win, they will go undefeated on the road. The 49ers have won six straight and will be tested this week for the first time in a month as they play the 6-2 Giants.
Playoff Prediction: NFC West Division Champions
3. New York Giants (6): The G-men move up with an impressive comeback win over the Patriots (without Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks no less). I don’t believe they are the third-best team in football, but they sure are playing like it. Let’s see how they play this week as they travel across the country to face the No. 2-ranked team.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in NFC East—miss playoffs
4. Detroit Lions (4): Coming off a bye, the Lions will travel to Chicago looking to sweep the Bears for the first time since 2004. Expect the Bears to be ready and to hold Detroit to fewer than the 24 they scored in their first matchup.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in NFC North—wildcard team
5. Baltimore Ravens (7): Inexplicable losses to Tennessee and Jacksonville are the only things keeping the Ravens from being undefeated. Joe Flacco hushed his critics with that impressive 92-yard drive against the Steelers defense in the final minutes.
At the end of the season, what number will be higher?
Playoff Prediction: AFC North Division Champions
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (3): The Steelers would have just one loss this year if they didn’t have to face the Ravens. They rank in the top nine on both offense and defense at the midway point. Don’t think for a second they wouldn’t love to face the Ravens one more time this season, even if it was on the road.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in AFC North—wildcard team
7. New Orleans Saints (10): After last week’s embarrassing performance, the Saints won a game they had to have. They face another big test this week as they travel to Atlanta in their final game before their bye.
Playoff Prediction: NFC South Division Champions
8. Houston Texans (9): The Texans have yet to have one of their patented bad losses this season. Yes, they lost to the Raiders, but you had to expect the Raiders were going to be motivated after the passing of Al Davis. Houston is for real this year and is a team nobody is going to be thrilled to face come playoff time.
Playoff Prediction: AFC South Division Champions
9. New England Patriots (5): The Pats have had two straight losses and three consecutive games scoring 20 points or less. New England faces three potentially tough games coming up, but end the season with five extremely winnable games, meaning the Pats will be playing their best football at the right time.
Playoff Prediction: AFC East Division Champions
10. New York Jets (12): After three straight losses, the Jets have won three straight and will put their winning streak on the line this week as they face the Patriots in a battle for first place.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in AFC East—wildcard team
11. Buffalo Bills (8): For the first time this season, the Bills were not competitive. They kept the game close in the first half, trailing 3-0 at halftime, but were not able to do anything in the second half. Buffalo now faces three consecutive road games and will likely need to win two of them if they want to have a chance at a postseason berth.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in AFC East—miss playoffs
12. Cincinnati Bengals (13): The Bengals won again, for the fifth straight time. The Bengals face the Steelers and Ravens in their next two games so Andy Dalton will finally get a true taste of what life is like in the AFC North.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in AFC North—miss playoffs
13. Chicago Bears (14): Chicago looked impressive with their road win against Philly, but they must keep it up if they want to continue their playoff push. Chicago is home against the Lions and Chargers in its next two games; they must win at least one.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in NFC North—miss playoffs
14. Atlanta Falcons (15): Julio Jones showed exactly why the Falcons decided to take him in this year’s draft. He appears to have recovered from his hamstring injury, which is good news for Falcons fans as they face a huge matchup next week with the division-leading Saints.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in NFC South—wildcard team
15. San Diego Chargers (11): The Chargers are falling flat on their face. They put up plenty of offense, but their defense was shredded. Philip Rivers threw for six touchdowns, but two of them were to the Green Bay Packers. After eight games, the Chargers have just one win against teams with .500 records or better.
Playoff Prediction: AFC West Division Champions
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17): It is starting to become obvious that despite some young talent, the Bucs just don’t have what it takes to compete at a high level in their division. They need to add a couple of pieces on offense if they want to hang with the Saints and Falcons.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in NFC South—miss playoffs
17. Kansas City Chiefs (16): It’s one thing to lose to a really bad team. It’s quite another to get beat 31-3 at home by a previously winless team. That’s the kind of loss that can ruin an entire season. It’s entirely possible the Chiefs will only win two more games the rest of the season.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in AFC West—miss playoffs
18. Dallas Cowboys (21): Dallas did what they had to do, but it was not pretty. If they don’t get their act together, they could finish at 8-8.
Playoff Prediction: NFC East Division Champions
19. Philadelphia Eagles (18): It appears the dream team will be doing just that—dreaming of what it would be like to make the playoffs. At 3-5, the Eagles likely will need to win out, or finish 7-1 worst-case to make the playoffs.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in NFC East
20. Oakland Raiders (19): Carson Palmer threw three more interceptions, but there were moments that it appeared he was the right person to bring in. Can’t fault him for this loss. The Raiders defense allowed 31 second-half points to a Tim Tebow-led team, and allowed just under 300 total rushing yards.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in AFC West—miss playoffs
21. Tennessee Titans (20): At 4-4, it appears the Titans' season is over. They still have road games against Buffalo and Houston, and must face all four teams from the NFC South. Things have gotten so bad, rumor has it they will release Chris Johnson at some point.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in AFC South—miss playoffs
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (22): Coming off a bye, the Jags face some pressure this week. They must face the Colts and hope not to become the first team to lose to them all season. They better take care of business because winning games the rest of the season is not going to be a common theme for the Jags.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in AFC South—miss playoffs
23. Cleveland Browns (23): If Cleveland is going to win any games the rest of the year, put your money on this week against the Rams. However, with the Rams at least playing decently the past two weeks, I wouldn’t bet too much. The Browns are a mess. I wonder how Cleveland fans would feel about Lebron James playing football for their city…
Playoff Prediction: 4th in AFC North—miss playoffs
24. Carolina Panthers (24): The Carolina defense has been decimated by injury this season. They might be wise to lose the rest of their games and get a high draft pick. It’s clear that Cam Newton can work with what he has on offense, as long as he cleans up his interceptions.
Playoff Prediction: 4th in NFC South—miss playoffs
25. Denver Broncos (29): As one of Tebow’s biggest critics, I must admit I was impressed with his performance this week (though he singlehandedly cost me a fantasy football win). With that said, I don’t see him having another performance like that this season. Nonetheless, it gave Bronco fans reason to believe, at least for another week.
Playoff Prediction: 4th in AFC West—miss playoffs
26. Minnesota Vikings (26): Coming off a bye, the Vikings will play their own Super Bowl this week as they face the unbeaten Packers. Christian Ponder and Co. gave the Pack everything they could handle a month ago. With a nationally televised game this week, expect the Vikings to give Green Bay another close game.
Playoff Prediction: 4th in NFC North—miss playoffs
27. Washington Redskins (25): Well, the John Beck experiment has not worked out as the ‘Skins are winless since he has started. Even though there doesn’t appear to be a favorite in the division, all three teams are significantly better than Washington.
Playoff Prediction: 4th in NFC East—miss playoffs
28. Arizona Cardinals (30): The Cardinals might want to consider putting Patrick Peterson on offense. He is about the only bright spot they have had this season.
Playoff Prediction: 4th in NFC West—miss playoffs
29. St. Louis Rams (27): Why the Rams passed up a 48-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter with the game tied is still beyond me. Not that they had any shot at catching the 49ers in the division, but if they did, they certainly lost all hope after that decision.
Playoff Prediction: 2nd in NFC West—miss playoffs
30. Seattle Seahawks (28): You could really rank Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona in any order you wanted, and nobody would question you. They all stink. At this point you have to wonder if the 49ers might win more games than these three teams combined. They should be a lock for at least 12 wins. The only reason they might not be successful is because the other three teams get to play each other.
Playoff Prediction: 3rd in NFC West—miss playoffs
31. Miami Dolphins (31): Even after a very impressive, dominant performance on the road in Kansas City, the Dolphins remain at No. 31. They have been competitive in their past three games, however, and will move up if they can continue to play well.
Playoff Prediction: 4th in AFC East—miss playoffs
32. Indianapolis Colts (32): The Colts now have the inside track to the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. In all honesty, they might not need the inside track. Miami has played competitive ball lately and Indy simply is bad enough they may go 0-16 even if they gave it everything they had. This week against the Jags at home is their best shot at getting a win.
Playoff Prediction: 4th in AFC South—miss playoffs