NFL Power Rankings: Sleeper Teams That Will Rise Through Shaky AFC

Michael DixonAnalyst IIINovember 18, 2011

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Santonio Holmes #10 of the New York Jets misses a pass as Matt Giordano #27 of the Oakland Raiders defends at O.co Coliseum on September 25, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

If you take a look at my rankings below, you will probably notice a tremendous cluster in the AFC. In all honesty, the top four teams in the AFC can be shuffled in any number of ways and it would make sense. 

Even through they aren't the top three teams in my rankings, I would say the best three teams in the conference are the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers. I'll explain the discrepancy momentarily.

But if one of those teams won't represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in February, look for one of these teams to take that honor.

Houston Texans

Remember that power rankings are based on what we've seen thus far, not what we're predicting. The Texans are ranked as the third-best AFC team right now. But with Matt Schaub likely out for the year, it's hard to imagine many people viewing them as Super Bowl threats. That's why I call them sleepers.

Well, I am not giving up on them just yet. Their running game is incredible. On a cold day in January, I like the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate an awful lot. Even though Matt Leinart isn't exactly a quarterback that strikes fear into the hearts of anyone, he will still have Andre Johnson to throw to. 

So, while I do expect them to hit some roadblocks, I am not counting them out as Super Bowl threats this season. 

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Oakland Raiders

Last week's win vs. San Diego only gave the Raiders a one-game lead in the AFC West. While that lead is held over three teams, I really like their chances of holding it.

The Raiders have a very strong offense and I do like Carson Palmer, especially as he gets more accustomed to running the show. When Darren McFadden comes back, he and Michael Bush give them a running attack that few teams in the league can match. 

Defensively, this team needs some work. But the last team a struggling offense will want to see in a playoff game is this one. 

New York Jets

Stop me if you've heard this before. The Jets are halfway through the season, struggling to make the playoffs. Rex Ryan is talking a lot. They just got handily defeated by the Patriots on national television. 

Yup, we've heard all of that before. We've also seen the Jets in each of the last two AFC Championship Games. They can win playoff games on the road, which they will need to do. 

The rest of the schedule sets up pretty well for the Jets to make the playoffs. With their defense, they are nothing short of terrifying in a postseason game.

Michael Dixon's Week 11 NFL Power Rankings

1. Green Bay Packers 9-0
2. San Francisco 49ers 8-1
3. New Orleans Saints 7-3
4. New England Patriots 6-3
5. Chicago Bears 6-3
6. Baltimore Ravens 6-3
7. Houston Texans 7-3
8. Pittsburgh Steelers
7-3
9. New York Giants 6-3
10. Cincinnati Bengals 6-3
11. Detroit Lions 6-3
12. Dallas Cowboys
5-4
13. Oakland Raiders
5-4
14. Atlanta Falcons
5-4
15. New York Jets 5-4
16. Tennessee Titans
5-4
17. Buffalo Bills 5-4
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4-5
19. Denver Broncos
4-5
20. San Diego Chargers 4-5
21. Philadelphia Eagles 3-6
22. Kansas City Chiefs 
4-5
23. Jacksonville Jaguars
3-6
24. Seattle Seahawks 3-6
25. Arizona Cardinals 3-6
26. St. Louis Rams 2-7
27. Carolina Panthers 2-7
28. Minnesota Vikings 2-7
29. Washington Redskins 3-6
30. Cleveland Browns 3-6
31. Miami Dolphins 
2-7
32. Indianapolis Colts 0-10

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