Week 10 is here, which means we're already taking an early glance at awards on NFL.com. It also means playoff positioning is in play and rankings are solidifying.
Or are they?
Twenty-two franchises moved spots from last week's rankings, illustrating the in-flux nature of the NFL and the reality that there are no great teams, just a few good, many mediocre and couple of Jags and Chiefs in the league.
Of note, however, is the fact that no one in the NFC North has a losing record, while every team in the NFC East fell in Week 9. Looks like that overrated division will have only one postseason representative for the third year in a row.
While the NFC East is overrated, the CFL evidently is underrated ...
As for the 31 teams not ranked 32nd, proceed with caution ...
... and let the dissension commence.
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
The Atlanta Falcons keep winning because Mike Smith's team just doesn't suffer the mental breakdowns that afflict other clubs. The Dallas Cowboys gave the Falcons all they could handle Sunday night, but the key to the game was that Atlanta didn't give Dallas any freebies. Roddy White is an absolute beast at home, too -- darn near uncoverable. His biggest contribution, besides putting up another 100-yard game, was locking up Morris Claiborne to prohibit an interception late in the fourth. That single play might have saved the game. What a player.
Another week, another win, and yet another game of holding the ball for more than 34 minutes. That said, the Houston Texans have a big challenge looming in Chicago. The key for Houston will be sticking with the run game against the Bears' front four, and not having any giveaways on offense, as Chicago absolutely thrives off turnovers (85 points off takeaways). The good news: Houston is excellent at both sticking with the ground game and protecting the football.
The walking wounded keep winning. This week, the Green Bay Packers lost Jordy Nelson early. Tight end Jermichael Finley still doesn't look right, and has the numbers to prove it (one catch, six yards on Sunday). James Starks and Alex Green were able to give the club a little oomph against the Arizona Cardinals, as the Packers' offense gained 176 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers didn't have his best game, but still racked up four touchdown passes. And the beat goes on ...
The Baltimore Ravens sit at 6-2 after holding off the pesky Cleveland Browns on the road. Head coach John Harbaugh had nothing but positive remarks about his opponent, praising what's being built in Cleveland. Class. You can't teach it. Another thing that can't be taught: resilience. Baltimore is on pace for a 12-4 mark, despite some huge injuries ( Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb) and offseason losses like Jarret Johnson, who now resides in San Diego. Give Harbaugh his props.
Given the circumstances, and the fact that Big Blue had a 20-10 second half lead, it's hard to qualify the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers as anything other than a letdown. That said, the New York Giants still reside in first place, with a trip to Cincinnati next on the docket. The front four should do well versus Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who isn't nearly as adept at making things happen when the play breaks down as Ben Roethlisberger.
It was one of those "double whammy" bye weeks. No football for New England Patriots fans ... and a huge groan from the 20 billion fantasy owners who have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Stevan Ridley, Wes Welker or Aaron Hernandez. Waiver wire, baby, waiver wire. Who doesn't love starting some spare tight end (who catches two balls) over Gronk (who catches two touchdowns)? Next up for the Pats: the struggling Buffalo Bills.
Manning-to-Decker is becoming one of the most lethal combos in pro football. Some of it is Eric Decker's ability to catch the ball in traffic, as well as his knack to be where he is supposed to be -- perhaps the most important trait for a receiver in a Peyton Manning-led offense. Of course, the other aspect to take into account is the attention Demaryius Thomas demands. As long as the Denver Broncos get viable defensive play, they'll be a huge player in the AFC. While we're at it, take a gander at Denver's back stretch: eight opponents, one of which has a winning record.
Everything about the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-20 win screamed "TEAM." Some writer not only called the win, but the exact score. How about that guy? What made this particular victory so special was the fact the Steelers did it in an emotionally charged stadium in front of an emotionally charged crowd. Despite being down 10 in the second half, with pass protection clearly breaking down, Pittsburgh's offense put together a couple of quality possessions. The running game was phenomenal, particularly Isaac Redman (147 yards). Couple that with incredibly clutch play from the secondary, and the Steelers now sit at 5-3 on the crest of a three-game win streak.
The Seattle Seahawks aren't going away any time soon. With the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins next up on the schedule, it's conceivable the Seahawks could be 7-4 and in strong position for a wild-card spot at the outset of December. The Seahawks now own the head-to-head over the Minnesota Vikings, who are also 5-4 and fighting for a playoff spot. On another note, Russell Wilson was awfully impressive in the bout with Minnesota: 16 of 24 with three touchdowns and a 127.3 passer rating.
Hey, don't look now, but this Detroit Lions club that everyone wrote off is now 4-4 and making its move. The NFC North doesn't have a losing team. Give some credit for the Lions' recent success to an unusual suspect: the ground game. Detroit ran for 149 yards and four touchdowns in Jacksonville. Next up: the Vikings, who just allowed 195 rushing yards to the Seahawks.
Remember when Tiki Barber wanted to come back last year? He has, as a T-1000 in Doug Martin's body.
Whatever Andrew Luck does differently at home, it sure is working. The No. 1 overall pick resumed his brilliant play at Lucas Oil Stadium with a rookie record 433 yards passing against Miami. Luck has put up over 300 yards per game and boasts an 8-to-3 TD-INT ratio over five contests in Indy. The interesting part is how well he's been able to spread it around to three guys who many analysts didn't think would give this team much production: Reggie Wayne (age, no Peyton), Donnie Avery (injury-ravaged career, three teams in five years) and T.Y. Hilton (who?). Impressive stuff, and kudos to offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians.
The Minnesota Vikings have been making opposing quarterbacks look like Hall of Famers lately. Over the last two weeks, opponents have thrown six touchdown passes with no picks and a 115.5 passer rating. Compounding the problem is the absence of a pass rush. After totaling 22 sacks over the first seven games, the Vikings have compiled two sacks in the last two. Not good.
Ryan Tannehill felt the pressure late in Sunday's loss in Indy, but overall you have to be impressed with the rookie out of Texas A&M. He might not exude confidence on the field all the time, and struggled on the Miami Dolphins' do-or-die possession near the end of the game, but the NFL isn't too big for him. Tannehill keeps his composure, and frankly, hasn't received enough credit because of all the praise spray-painted on Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. Speaking of the latter, how Miami's defensive backs don't make a play on the go-ahead bomb to T.Y. Hilton is anyone's guess. Luck threw that ball up for grabs.
Another frustrating loss for the beat-up Dallas Cowboys. Prior to the loss, Jerry Jones said that even he would have fired Jerry Jones The GM (i.e., if another general manager had his track record over the last 15 years). Wondering aloud over Twitter if Jones would write a resignation letter to himself, I got this response ...
@harrison_nfl "Dear Jerry - I now realize I am not qualified to do the job and I think you should take over from here. Signed, Jerry."— Diego Lopez (@Diego24fps) November 5, 2012
Philip Rivers looked awfully good Thursday night, save one poor decision in throwing a bad pick in the end zone. Once again, Rivers aimed the ball and looked to do too much. If he can just coach himself out of that, the San Diego Chargers will be right in the thick of the AFC West race. The defense played well in Cleveland and held down the Chiefs with little difficulty. While that competition might not be stiff, defensive coordinator John Pagano leads a unit that can at least keep the Bolts in games. Now San Diego just needs some healthy wideouts.
The Cincinnati Bengals are in serious trouble. At 3-5, they cannot afford a clunker at home against the defending champs. Another loss, and the Bengals will be in a serious hole in the playoff race. This group went 10-6 last season. Quarterback Andy Dalton's play will be dissected, and with good reason. The second-year man from TCU has already thrown 11 interceptions after throwing only 13 as a rookie last season.
The Arizona Cardinals got much more out of their offense at Green Bay than they did versus San Francisco at home, but the Cards were also penalized more and turned the ball over more than the Packers. You just can't do that against a superior team on the road. Arizona also only held the ball for 26 minutes. Any way you look at it, the Cardinals are in free-fall. Going into a bye week with a five-game losing streak in tow is not exactly ideal.
Much like the Cardinals, the St. Louis Rams are in a steep decline. During the bye week, head coach Jeff Fisher and staff must've taken a hard look at a defense that isn't playing nearly as well as it did early in the season. The secondary had its difficulties with both the Packers and the Patriots, which is understandable, given that those teams are quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, respectively. But New England seemingly did whatever it wanted offensively, exploiting the Rams on the ground, too. The schedule provides no breaks, with a trip to San Francisco in Week 10. Remember: Alex Smith went 18-for-19 with three touchdowns his last time out. Big game for the Rams.
At 3-5, the show ain't over. Heckuva response by the New Orleans Saints' defense after letting Peyton Manning Tecmo them a week ago. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's unit was especially impressive when backed up inside its own 20 on Monday night, shutting the door time and again on the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly ventured into the red zone five times, and New Orleans gave them all of six points. Uh, that's a win.
You thought Cam Newton looked defeated in recent postgame press conferences? Oh man, Andy Reid looked like a guy who had to sit through a Lifetime movie marathon on Monday night. Going 0-for-5 in the red zone will do that to a man. So will gaining 447 yards and only having 13 points to show for it. So will losing five of six games.
Encouraging showing by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Washington. The coaching staff said the Panthers would play more aggressively, and they did. Case in point: Newton airing it out deep in his own end zone with a 14-6 lead in the fourth quarter. Most clubs would've run the ball on the road in that scenario. Newton delivered a perfect vertical shot to Armanti Edwards, and 82 yards later, Carolina was looking to go up 21-6 and play defense.
The Washington Redskins continue to hurt their own cause with penalties and drops. If 'Skins receivers could consistently catch the ball, Robert Griffin III would be hovering around a 70 percent completion rate. Cornerback Josh Wilson's fourth-quarter pass interference in the end zone pretty much guaranteed a Carolina touchdown, and then he wouldn't get his butt off the field to allow the Redskins' defense to properly set -- problems that are a microcosm of the Redskins' season.
You never know what Oakland Raiders team is going to show up -- from game to game, quarter to quarter or play to play. At 3-5, the season isn't entirely slipping away. The Raiders are only two games back in the AFC West, but have already suffered losses to both Denver and San Diego. The only way to get the 2012 season on the rails is for head coach Dennis Allen to take a hard look at what his team is doing defensively, from a scheme and personnel standpoint. Allen was hired for this gig largely because of what he accomplished as a defensive coordinator in Denver. Yet, his defense in Oakland is allowing 28.6 points per game ( 28th in the NFL).
Losing 51-20 is bad enough. But losing the way the Tennessee Titans did made the blowout unpalatable. Five turnovers, 22 minutes of possession and never really being in the game? Yeah, life as a Titans fan was nothing short of awful on Sunday. At 3-6, the Titans' chances of recovery seem remote, even in the swamp of mediocrity that is the AFC. Chris Johnson ran for 141 yards, taking one 80 yards to the house. Where was that in September?
The Buffalo Bills made a game out of it in Houston for the majority of the afternoon, but the offense still seems out of sync. Make no mistake, it's the defense that's been the culprit for most of the failure in 2012. Yet too often in Houston, the offense got nothing going, particularly when it was 21-9 with the bulk of the fourth quarter to play. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked off, and the offense didn't vertical shots despite being down two scores. Going 2-for-11 on third down ain't exactly conducive to winning games, either. Perplexing, and I'm sure maddening for Bills fans.
The Cleveland Browns fought back against a Baltimore team that always handles them in their own stadium. But the Brownies still ended up with another loss. Problem No. 1 for Cleveland: Settling for Phil Dawson field goals instead of getting touchdowns. Red-zone stalls hurt. Something else that hurt: Brandon Weeden and the offense getting less than five yards per passing attempt. That is awful. The defense hung tight, allowing the Ravens just 282 total yards after giving up two early touchdowns. (Cleveland gave up 136 yards on Baltimore's first two possessions, then 146 the rest of the game.) The offense must get more bang for the buck in the air and convert third downs to close the door on teams.
Same old story for Jacksonville Jaguars fans, all 63,050 of them who had to sit through another three hours of bad offensive football. Jacksonville gained just 279 total yards against the Lions, with a good majority of that total coming in garbage time. At some point, this ship must get righted, organizationally speaking. Jacksonville's home crowd has seen losses of 27-7, 27-10, 41-3 and 31-14. Get excited.
Tough to encapsulate what's going wrong in Kansas City, but it should be mentioned that there is too much talent on this roster for the Chiefs to be 1-7. So it must be the coaching, right? Not completely. General manager Scott Pioli is responsible for signing Matt Cassel to a $63 million deal, drafting Jon Baldwin in the first round when a lot of teams didn't want him, alienating long-time employees, fixing leaks with mediocre players ( Peyton Hillis, Steve Breaston, Stanford Routt) and ultimately spearheading a franchise that's gone 22-57 since he came on board.