The San Francisco 49ers just might be ready to take over the top spot in this week's power rankings after a decisive win at home against an elite New York Giant team. But are the 49ers better than the Green Bay Packers?
It's time to take a look at the Week 11 power rankings, ranking each team based on what they've done so far, what they might do the rest of the way and simply on who has looked the best this season. Just to keep it interesting, I'm throwing in my Week 11 vote for each team's Most Valuable Player.
Who will be No. 1 this week? I can promise you there are major changes in the Top 5. It's time to find out if the Packers or 49ers are the best of the best.
The Indianapolis Colts' season seems to get worse each week. With 10 straight losses, the playoffs are out of the question (officially) and it's time to focus on the 2012 NFL draft and quarterback Andrew Luck.
You could argue, and I wouldn't disagree, that even in his absence Peyton Manning is the most valuable player to the Colts, but it's too easy to point at Manning and doesn't highlight the sound play of a defender getting no credit this year.
Pat Angerer has been a beast for the Colts this season. With 98 tackles on the year, Angerer has been the cog on defense even in a down year for Indianapolis.
As the Colts rebuild their roster in the 2011 offseason, they'll look at Angerer as the player to build around on defense.
MVP: Pat Angerer, Middle Linebacker
The Minnesota Vikings take a huge drop this week in the rankings based not only on an embarrassing showing against the Green Bay Packers—but because this team may not win another game for a long time.
Christian Ponder is playing as well as any rookie could be expected to, but he lacks an elite No. 1 wide receiver and is stuck behind an offensive line built to run block. When you're down 27 in the first quarter, a running blocking line isn't much help.
The Vikings can at least enjoy the simple fact that Adrian Peterson is having an amazing year. Without him, they would most definitely be 0-9.
MVP: Adrian Peterson, Running Back
The St. Louis Rams picked up their second win of the season when the Cleveland Browns missed a late field goal that would have given them the win. So why are the Rams below the Browns?
Cleveland has been better, albeit slightly, over the course of the season. This was a game the Browns should have won.
But the Rams did win, and I don't want to take that away from them. They can thank Mr. Sam Bradford for playing a very solid game to get them there. In fact, Bradford has been the best player on the team all season.
You might not see it on the stat sheet, but Bradford has played exceptional football all season. He's accurate, tough and is showing the arm strength to stretch the field. Give Bradford a shot with Brandon Lloyd at wide receiver all season and the Rams would have two more wins.
MVP: Sam Bradford, Quarterback
Not much good has come from the Cleveland Browns' 2011 season. In what summarizes the entire season well, the Browns missed a 22-yard field goal that would have given than a two point lead at the end of the game. When the ball rolled back to the holder, fans in Cleveland could do little but shake their heads. It's just the way this season has gone.
Down their top two running backs and without an established threat at wide receiver or tight end, the Browns have struggled offensively. The defense has been good, but when your offense rarely scores more than 15 points, even a great defense can't guarantee a win.
One player who deserves a highlight in this miserable season is middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Playing in a contract season, Jackson is showing the athletic ability and instincts that many saw early in his career. Jackson is a great fit at MIKE 'backer in the 4-3 scheme, and he's showing the talent to become a building block for this young team.
MVP: D'Qwell Jackson, Middle Linebacker
The Washington Redskins started the season red hot with a 3-1, but have since dropped five straight. Blame injuries on the offensive line if you want, but the real blame needs to fall on the head coach for trusting the most important position in sports to Rex Grossman and John Beck.
The play under center has been miserable, and the overall play of the team reflects the lack of production at quarterback. Perhaps Mike Shanahan is making a play for Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley to be his quarterback in 2012 after the Redskins pick up a Top 5 draft pick.
While the offense has been bad, there have been bright spots on defense, notably at outside linebacker. You could easily pick either Brian Orakpo or Ryan Kerrigan as the team's most valuable player, as each has been dominant off the edge in the 3-4 defense. One week it's Kerrigan leading the way, the next it's Orakpo. The two are closing in on elite status.
MVP: Brian Orakpo, Outside Linebacker
Don't look now, but the Miami Dolphins have won two straight games. And they've done it with Matt Moore at quarterback.
Moore was seen as a potential spot-starter when he was with the Carolina Panthers and he seems to be a better fit in this Miami offense with a few playmakers around him. Moore is at least keeping the Dolphins competitive on offense.
The defense gave fans reason to believe the Dolphins might take the next step toward being a playoff contender this season, but early in the year the unit struggled. If Week 10 is any indication, the defense is back on track.
It wasn't hard to find a most valuable player for the Dolphins' 2011 season to date. Cameron Wake has been brilliant at outside linebacker all season long. He's in the conversation as the second best outside linebacker in the game.
MVP: Cameron Wake, Outside Linebacker
The 2011 season in Kansas City has been up and down over the first 10 weeks. This is a team many counted out after they started the season 0-3, but they have played well since...at times.
Due to a bad division, the Chiefs are still in the playoff hunt, even after dropping two straight games. It's tough to remember, but the Chiefs are playing without two of their biggest threats on offense (Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki) and perhaps their most electric defender (Eric Berry). Even with three stars out, Kansas City is still in contention.
The Chiefs can thank Derrick Johnson for the fact that they are still alive in late November. Johnson has been a lock-down defender both against the run and in coverage all season. Hidden by the inconsistent play of the rest of the team is the fact that Johnson is having an All-Pro caliber season.
MVP: Derrick Johnson, Inside Linebacker
It's cliche' to say, but the Carolina Panthers are much better than their two wins.
I try to watch the Panthers each week, either real-time or later in the week on film, and I see a team that's close to making a move from the bottom of the league to a playoff contender. The Panthers are likely to have a Top 5 draft pick again, and that means adding another talented player to a roster that's loaded with young players.
Carolina is set at quarterback after spending their 2011 first overall pick on Cam Newton. Newton has been a star for the Panthers this season, showing the passing and running ability that most believed Newton would take years to develop as a pro. He hit the ground running though, and his play is keeping the Panthers season interesting even as they drop games each week.
MVP: Cam Newton, Quarterback
Things have not been good in Arizona this season. The Cardinals entered the year as playoff contenders after trading for quarterback Kevin Kolb and signing guard Daryn Colledge away from the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
Problem is, neither player has done much to help the team in the wins column to date.
The Cardinals should be encouraged by the play of youngsters Chris Wells, Sam Acho, Daryl Washington and 2011 first-rounder Patrick Peterson. These four players are the future for the Cardinals.
Peterson is one worth mentioning on his own. Two of the Cardinals' three wins were aided by a punt return touchdown from Peterson. His play as a cornerback and return man has been everything the team hoped for when they made him the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 draft.
MVP: Patrick Peterson, Cornerback/Returner
I can't figure out the Seattle Seahawks. At all.
The team will lose seemingly winnable games, but they'll win against the New York Giants on the road and beat a Super Bowl contender like the Baltimore Ravens without blinking an eye. How they can beat two elite teams but lose to the Cleveland Browns is a head-scratcher.
The schedule has been tough for the Seahawks this season, and that's worth noting when looking at their play overall. There are bright spots, but the overall inconsistency of the team will keep them from becoming more than an afterthought this season.
It's tough to pick a team MVP for Seattle. You could make a case for Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin or even Kam Chancellor, but I like Earl Thomas. The second-year safety leads the team in tackles and is quickly becoming a leader in the Seahawks' locker room.
MVP: Earl Thomas, Safety
It goes against all football wisdom to suggest that a quarterback could complete two passes and win a game, but that's what happened this weekend when the Denver Broncos topped the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tim Tebow completed 25 percent of his eight passing attempts in a win, both a testament to how bad the Kansas City defense is and how much fear Tim Tebow strikes in opposing defenses. However, the 3-1 record under Tebow won't last once the Broncos play defenses that are smart enough to load the box against this team.
Despite what you may think, Tebow is not the MVP of this team, by far. It's Von Miller, the rookie outside linebacker. You could make a decent argument for Champ Bailey or Willis McGahee, but Miller and his eight sacks are the reason Denver is in playoff contention after 10 weeks.
MVP: Von Miller, Outside Linebacker
After a 10-win season last year and solid play from youngsters Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams, most thought the playoffs were a realistic expectation for Tampa Bay this season. So far, that looks impossible.
Tampa has been too inconsistent this season, and as the weather gets colder they are playing worse. The Bucs have dropped three straight games, putting their playoff hopes in the loaded NFC South on life-support.
Tampa's strength this season was supposed to be their defensive line. Anchored by high draft picks like Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers and Brian Price becoming elite players at their position. The defensive line has been a strength, but because of Michael Bennett and not the players hyped this preseason.
Bennett has been solid, coming through with excellent play against the run and pass. With the offensive stars fading, Bennett has been the best and most consistent player in Tampa Bay.
MVP: Michael Bennett, Defensive End
The Jacksonville Jaguars get forgotten at times, even in Jacksonville, but this is a roster that has talent to improve dramatically over the next few seasons if the team can get solid play from rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert was solid enough this week to secure a win, the third of the season, and perhaps keeping coach Jack Del Rio off the hot seat for one more week.
A few players worth mentioning before we get to the MVP, though. Daryl Smith has been excellent at outside linebacker. He's playing All-Pro football, as is middle linebacker Paul Posluszny.
The real star of the team though is Maurice Jones-Drew at running back. Jones-Drew has carried the Jaguars through good and bad games, on pace for a career-best season even as the young players around him struggle.
MVP: Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back
The San Diego Chargers have enough talent to walk away with the AFC West every year, but due to bad coaching and poor team building they never lives up to expectations. You can look at the holes at right tackle, outside linebacker and nose tackle as a key reason the Chargers are 4-5 and falling out of a playoff race they should have locked up by now.
San Diego's season has been a disappointment, but the play of Shaun Phillips has not been. Phillips has only played in six games due to injury, but in those six games he was dominant. Getting Phillips back healthy down the stretch could keep San Diego's season alive.
MVP: Shaun Phillips, Outside Linebacker
It's safe to call the 2011 season a major disappointment in Philadelphia. The Eagles spent money, traded players and did everything a team can possibly due to improve over the summer but the payoff hasn't showed on the field. And that's where it matters most.
Philadelphia is rocked by inconsistency, selfish play and a lack of trust among teammates. While the front office's philosophy works great in Madden, real teams are built not with superstars but with solid contributors anchoring two or three stars.
A 3-6 record is a major disappointment, but LeSean McCoy has been a bright spot on an otherwise bleak season. As the team leans on McCoy, he's proving to be one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. McCoy is in the conversation as the second best back in the league.
MVP: LeSean McCoy, Running Back
Ladies and gentlemen, your AFC West leading Oakland Raiders.
Despite a loss of their starting quarterback and an astronomically valued trade to secure the rights to Carson Palmer, the Raiders are sitting atop the division after 10 weeks. And not only are they leading the division, they are by far the most impressive team as of late among the four teams in the AFC West.
The Raiders' strong play early was on the back of Darren McFadden, who has missed two games due to injury. McFadden though is the best player on a roster featuring talented defenders and offensive players stepping into big roles.
I would accept arguments for Richard Seymour, Jared Veldheer or Lamarr Houston here, but McFadden is the best of this tough team.
MVP: Darren McFadden, Running Back
When the Tennessee Titans signed quarterback Matt Hasselbeck before the season began I wasn't sure he could be a good fit in the offense of Chris Palmer. When Chris Johnson got off to a bad start, I was sure the Titans early season play would nosedive. And when wide receiver Kenny Britt was lost for the season we all gave up on their chances.
But here we are at Week 11 and the Titans are still in the playoff race. Thank you, Mr. Hasselbeck.
The Titans may not make the playoffs when the dust settles, but the fact that they are even in contention after letting go their head coach and their veteran quarterback before the season began speaks volumes to the ability of this team.
MVP: Matt Hasselbeck, Quarterback
The Buffalo Bills started the season on a hot streak, but they have since lost four of their last six games and are suddenly on the outside looking in on the AFC East playoff race.
A loss on Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys exposed many of the weaknesses I saw on this roster before the season began. Without an elite pass rusher or shutdown corner, Tony Romo was able to carve up the defense. Once the passing game was established as a threat, DeMarco Murray got to work on delayed handoffs. This is the recipe to beat the Bills, and it's one their division rivals the Patriots and Jets can duplicate.
A winning record should be a welcome accomplishment for the Bills and their fans this season. The emergence of guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Steve Johnson and Marcell Dareus gives the team players to build around for the future. These three have been good, but Fred Jackson has been great.
Jackson is the NFL rushing leader after 10 weeks and is making a strong case for a big money contract.
MVP: Fred Jackson, Running Back
It's been up and down for the New York Jets this season, but what we do know is that they cannot beat the New England Patriots, and that may be all that matters.
The Jets are now 0-2 against their division rivals, which just might be enough to keep them out of the playoffs. The Jets remaining schedule is easy enough for them to get to 10 or 11 wins, but they'll have to find a consistency on offense that they haven't shown this season.
The Jets' defense has played well all season, which would make star cornerback Darrelle Revis a logical answer as team MVP, but Revis was exposed over the last two weeks. As great as Revis is, he's not the MVP of the season. Nick Mangold is.
Mangold, in absence and when on the field, is the most important player for the New York Jets.
MVP: Nick Mangold, Center
Detroit Lion fans can officially panic.
Since winning their first five games, the Detroit Lions have gone 1-3 and have the look of a team falling apart at the seams. Head coach Jim Schwartz team needs to fix their issues, and in a hurry.
The Lions are talented, and despite a huge hole at running back they would be a shoe-in for a wildcard spot. Without a sound running back the team has gone into a tail-spin since losing to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Lions are still capable of winning enough games to secure a wildcard spot. If that's going to happen it will be because of Calvin Johnson.
The huge wide receiver nicknamed Megatron needs to put the Lions on his back and carry them into the playoffs. Now is the time for Johnson to establish himself as not just an incredible talent, but as a leader.
MVP: Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys have quietly played excellent football of late, putting themselves back in the discussion as a potential playoff team.
Dallas has a tough opponent ahead of them in the NFC East standings, but if Tony Romo and the offense can play like they did on Sunday, even the New York Giants should be afraid.
Dallas has found a nice mix on offense, alternating between big passing plays from Romo and powerful running by DeMarco Murray. Head coach Jason Garrett will need both players hitting on all cylinders if the Cowboys are going to make a run.
As good as the two offensive players have been, no one on this team comes close to playing as well as outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. With 13 sacks, Ware is arguably the best defensive player in all of football.
MVP: DeMarcus Ware, Outside Linebacker
If the Cincinnati Bengals are this year's Cinderella, the slipper was just a bit too small on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati was in the game the entire time and had a chance to win late before a tipped ball by the wide receiver resulted in an interception that changed the game.
Cincinnati is still in it, though. A Baltimore Raven loss on Sunday keeps them in the mix for the AFC North lead with six wins. The Bengals still have two games against the Ravens and one more against the Steelers. Those three games will define this season.
The turnaround in Cincinnati may be more about who left than those players added, but the MVP of the season has to be rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton hasn't been great in every contest, but he's been the solid hand the team needs at quarterback to win ball games. You could easily put Andrew Whitworth, Geno Atkins or A.J. Green here, but as Dalton improves the Bengals become more of a contender.
MVP: Andy Dalton, Quarterback
With a 5-4 record and a division loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons are in "win now" mode.
Atlanta was my pick to win the NFC South before the season, something that doesn't look likely this morning, but they are still a talented enough team to make the playoffs.
Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey botched a fourth down call in overtime, overshadowing what was a solid game by the Falcons against an elite team. The Saints and Falcons will be neck-and-neck as long as Drew Brees and Matt Ryan are throwing passes for each team.
There hasn't been one standout player for the Falcons this season, as their inconsistencies are preventing anyone from standing out, but the way the offense clicked against the Saints is a credit to Matt Ryan. The 2011 season has been a bit of a letdown as Ryan struggles behind a surprisingly bad offensive line, but he's still the catalyst for this offense and this team.
MVP: Matt Ryan, Quarterback
If any team in the AFC has a chance to win out and gain much needed momentum before the playoffs, it's the New England Patriots.
A much needed win came Sunday night over the New York Jets, giving Bill Belichick a 2-0 record against the division rivals this season. That should be enough to put New England in the driver seat for the division crown this year (again).
The Patriots haven't been dominant this year, surprising given their 6-3 record, but they are staying in games because of the elite play coming from quarterback and wide receiver. The combination of Tom Brady and Wes Welker is once again among the best in the NFL.
If the Patriots are going to make a run at another Super Bowl, you can bet it will be on the shoulders of No. 12.
MVP: Tom Brady, Quarterback
A loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday moves the New York Giants down a few spots in the rankings today, but fans in New York shouldn't be discouraged by the play of their team in Week 10.
The Giants did a lot of things very well on Sunday against the now 8-1 49ers. The pass rush was strong, and until Corey Webster was injured the coverage was sound. Once the Giants get Ahmad Bradshaw back healthy, this will once again be among the best all-around teams in football.
Eli Manning has been criticized heavily in my previous articles, but his 2011 season is changing my opinion of him each week. Manning is a playing elite football, even if he did toss two interceptions against the NFL's best defense on Sunday.
Come January, the Giants will be incredibly tough to beat.
MVP: Eli Manning, Quarterback
The Pittsburgh Steelers only move down this week as teams previously below them move up. Pittsburgh won a tough game over a serious contender in the division. My opinion of the as a team hasn't changed in any way.
The emergence of stars like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver has the Pittsburgh offense the most dangerous it's been in all the years I can remember. Ben Roethlisberger is able to manage a versatile attack that keeps defenders guessing all game.
The problems in Pittsburgh are on defense, which is an odd thing to even write, but it's true. The team has been exposed by downfield passers, even rookie Andy Dalton on Sunday.
My MVP for the Steelers would have been James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley had either been able to avoid injury. Instead the vote has to go to Big Ben and his play at quarterback. Too often forgotten when the best quarterbacks are talked about, Roethlisberger is among the top passers in the game.
MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback
The Baltimore Ravens simply piss me off. This is a team with elite talent at almost every position, and yet they lose to the Seattle Seahawks?
What worries me about Baltimore is that they struggle to come off a big game with a win. When Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in Week 1 they lost the next week to the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens then beat the Houston Texans, only to lose the next week to the Jacksonville Jaguars. After beating Pittsburgh again in Week 9, they lose to the Seahawks the next week. Notice a trend? That's a record I cannot trust in the playoffs.
Having said all that, the Ravens are still 6-3 and among the best teams in the AFC. They have to be considered a favorite to reach the AFC championship game, if not the Super Bowl.
It should be no surprise that Ray Lewis would be the MVP. Lewis has been the best player in Baltimore since he was drafted way back in 1996. The fact that Lewis remains so dominant at 36 years old defies logic.
MVP: Ray Lewis, Middle Linebacker
I waited a while to jump on the Chicago Bears bandwagon, and I'm still not sure if I'm totally on, but you have to be impressed with the way Chicago is playing as of late.
The Bears' offense is as explosive and productive as anyone could expect, and they are doing it with an offensive line torn apart by injuries and stocked with no-name contributors, but they are getting it done. Jay Cutler and Matt Forte' are playing Pro Bowl football and are easily the reasons for Chicago's six wins on offense.
The defense, as always, is outstanding. The Bears have talent at each unit, with the leadership from Brian Urlacher to cover up small holes in the secondary with smart playcalling and execution. The more I see the Bears, the more I think they are a lock for a wildcard berth and will be a very tough matchup in the playoffs.
MVP: Matt Forte', Running Back
Lost in the hyped matchups of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, or the east coast dominated New England Patriots and New York Jets, is the fact that the Houston Texans are the best team in the AFC.
Yes, I said the best team. And it's not even close.
Houston is hitting on all cylinders when it matters most. As the team progresses the team is finding the chemistry on offense and footing on defense to play any type of football needed to win each week. Whether it's a ground-it-out run game or a high-powered shoot out, the Texans can play with anyone.
What's most impressive, they're winning without Andre Johnson and Mario Williams. Let that sink in.
The team is winning thanks to Arian Foster. The 2010 rushing champion is having an MVP-caliber season, even after missing two early games due to injury. Foster's ability as a runner and receiver is making the Texans my team to beat in the AFC.
Update: Of course, just after publishing, it was learned that Matt Schaub would be out of the remainder of the season with a Lisfranc injury. This doesn't affect the Texans' ranking (yet), but it definitely puts a dark cloud on the remainder of the season. With Matt Leinart under center, the offense will lean even more on Arian Foster.
MVP: Arian Foster, Running Back
It was hard to take the New Orleans Saints seriously after they lost to the St. Louis Rams, but since dropping that shocker they have settled down and won two tough football games. I'm back on the bandwagon.
In a year featuring dominant play by the NFC, New Orleans may be looking at a No. 3 seed (at best) behind the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. That means the Saints would go on the road after the first round of the playoffs. The Saints three losses all came on the road this year.
What New Orleans has been able to accomplish is largely a team effort. The easy vote for MVP would be Drew Brees, but I've seen too much up and down play from Brees this year to call him the most valuable so far. Instead, I'm handing the award to a player who has given this offense a spark they lacked in previous years. This player is already one of the best at his position in the NFL, and he's just getting started.
MVP: Jimmy Graham, Tight End
I considered putting the San Francisco 49ers No. 1 this week for about five seconds, and then the moment passed. Fact is, the 49ers are playing sound football and are one overtime catch from a practice squad receiver away from an undefeated record.
The 49ers' doubters said they hadn't played a real team yet, but they did so on Sunday when they beat the New York Giants. Suddenly the 49ers and their 8-1 record are serious contenders in Jim Harbaugh's first season as head coach.
The Niners could have the NFC West title wrapped up on Thanksgiving day if they can beat the Baltimore Ravens, no small feat. To do so they'll need a healthy Frank Gore and another good game from Alex Smith, who is becoming easier to believe in each week.
Jim Harbaugh has been the unquestioned MVP as head coach, but among players there is no one more important to this team than Patrick Willis. Justin Smith and NaVorro Bowman have been amazing, as have Carlos Rogers and Aldon Smith, but Willis is the key to the NFL's No. 1 ranked defense and a unit that hasn't allowed a 100 yard rusher in 31 straight games.
MVP: Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker
The Green Bay Packers continue to embarrass the opposition. It's amazing how well this team is playing.
The Green Bay offense is among the best I've ever seen, and they're not even trying to run the ball yet. Once the weather gets even colder in Wisconsin, we'll see the Packers load up the offensive line with three tight ends and start pounding the rock.
Aaron Rodgers isn't just the MVP of the Packers' season, he's hands-down the league MVP and is having one of the best seasons ever for a quarterback.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback