Let's do some Power Ranking, folks.
But first, a few notes on the state of things at the outset of November:
a) At this point, head-to-head matchups are mostly going out the window.
b) Refer to "a" regarding early September football.
c) Injuries matter.
d) Pure wins and losses are not as important. Otherwise, these would be Power Standings.
e) Tom Brady pities the fool.
Let's get to a little accounting on that last front. A lot of people think New England belongs on top -- even those not for New England:
Try watching "Behind Enemy Lines" for the 50th time. That's what I do to get my mind off things.
It's the great schedule-maker conspiracy. I blame former NBA Commissioner David Stern.
@HarrisonNFL good luck trying to figure out AFC North this week. Must be fun to watch you pencil the rankings over and overâ Maurício Vargas (@_mauriciovargas) November 3, 2014
Thanks, Maurício. I just backspace six million times on a tablet keyboard sponsored by the good folks at carpal tunnel.
As you can see below, the AFC North is no longer as jumbled, as those red-hot Steelers just keep surging. They still have a ways to go to catch the Patriots, but the AFC is getting interesting. As for the rest of the Power Rankings, feel free to share your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from the most recent Power Rankings.)
From the "Did you know?" department ... Did you know the last time the Cardinals went this deep in the season with the league's best record was 1966, when they were 7-1-1 after Week 9? This was before bye weeks. But you know, fans love byes so much, we could never go back.
Obviously the Broncos had to drop, given what happened in New England. Peyton Manning hasn't pressed that hard since the Super Bowl, and to put it candidly, it showed. The run game has been completely absent in Denver's two losses: 36 yards in Seattle, 43 on Sunday. Manning or no Manning, you still have to be able to run in spots to win it all. #situationalfootball.
Kudos to Mark Sanchez, who capitalized on a second opportunity after a well-publicized failure with his initial team. The list of NFL players who struggled at their first stop but managed to carry on successfully in other cities includes numerous Hall of Fame and Hall of Very Good quarterbacks: Len Dawson, Earl Morrall, Billy Kilmer, Steve Young and Rich Gannon, to name a few.
The way Ben Roethlisberger is balling, who knows how high the Steelers might climb? Big Ben set a new league record for the most touchdown passes over two games (12). We can use our college algebra skills to deduce that he also became the first to log six scoring strikes in back-to-back weeks. In fact, only once had a QB recorded at least six twice in the course of one regular-season slate: Y.A. Tittle, who did it in 1962, then threw 36 TD passes in '63 -- tying an NFL record that wasn't surpassed until former Pitt QB Dan Marino tossed 48 with the Dolphins in 1984. Roethlisberger now has 22 in nine games, putting him on pace for 39 this season.
Between another Seahawks win that proved to be harder-fought than people anticipated and the play of both Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, a small drop was necessary. Then again, we must remind ourselves that this club played plenty of surprisingly close games last year -- including tight victories over the Titans, Rams and Bucs -- and still went on to win the Super Bowl by 35 points. So should we continue to believe in these 'Hawks, Seattle fans? (@HarrisonNFL) The ultimate litmus test might be when the Cardinals visit Nov. 23.
Well, the win might not have knocked your socks off, but Kansas City continues to do enough. After a miserable start to the season, where K.C. couldn't get anything going against the Titans, the Chiefs have now leapfrogged the Chargers and are in prime position to compete for a wild-card slot. My prediction: fifth seed in the AFC.
Heckuva response there, Jeremy Hill. After the Jags had closed the gap to 26-23 in the fourth quarter, it's safe to say there were more than a few nervous WhoDey fans in the house. That's when Hill took it 60 to the house. Had some Bengals fans tweet me that Hill is a better pure running back than Giovani Bernard. Taking a new poll: @HarrisonNFL.
Statement win for the Dolphins, who have not lost to San Diego at home since that famous 1981 playoff game at the Orange Bowl. What was most impressive about Miami's 37-0 throttling? Take your pick, be it Ryan Tannehill, the defense, or the fact the club didn't let the Chargers get jack in garbage time. I am a bit concerned the offense might still be winded from running up and down the field so much.
What did Bills fans do in the bye week? Play dominoes? Go to Lasertron? Watch the 1981 AFC wild-card triumph on VHS? (Confession: I have that.) Did you know one of the Bills' starting safeties in that '81 playoff game, Steve Freeman, is now an NFL game official? Yes, I am running out of things to write about here.
We don't want to push the Saints too many rungs upward on these here rankings, considering they're still perfectly average at 4-4. That said, given the events of the past few weeks, which team below could the Saints not beat on a neutral field? Stout showing Thursday night from Sammy Hagar's, er, Rob Ryan's defense.
In the game of football, you try to stop the other guys from making catches in the end zone. If you are on the road, generally speaking, those other guys will be wearing dark or some kind of colored jerseys. Also, the goal of your pro football team is to protect your passer, so that he can throw the ball to your guys in the end zone. #fail
The Brownies are staying put. Over the past three weeks, they've gotten hammered in Jacksonville and looked unimpressive in wins over the Raiders and Bucs. Take a look at where those three outfits are in these Power Rankings (as well as the standings). Not penalizing Cleveland for winning -- nice job at the end, Brian Hoyer -- but we can't move the Browns up.
This might seem like a harsh drop, but
losing to the Rams ... at home ... coming off a bye ... which followed
a thrashing on "Sunday Night Football" -- yes, it's appropriate. I know many of you out there are thinking,
Come on, the Niners can beat the Browns! Really? Can we truly say that with absolute confidence?
And as far as the controversial ending versus the Rams goes, San Francisco should have never been in that position, against that team, in the first place. But in case you were wondering, I think Mike Pereira called Colin Kaepernick's fumble/non-fumble correctly on Twitter, at least in terms of how it should have been viewed: "No clear shot of the ball breaking the (plane), no clear recovery in the scrum, so you can't change that aspect of the play. Can't overturn it."
At 4-5, Houston is certainly not out of the playoff picture -- but that window is closing fast. The Texans are actually outscoring their opponents this season. The key now is getting Jadeveon Clowney into the pass-rush rotation, to force opponents to make tough decisions in pass protection. Houston is getting a sack on just 5.2 percent of opponent dropbacks, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. Not to get too technical here, but Romeo Crennel would do well to shift some of the panic from his defensive backfield to the opposing offensive backfield.
In a season that has seen almost every NFC East team lose its starting quarterback for a period of time, it's ironic that the only club that's had its top dog all year has struggled so much. Of course, considering the Giants have committed at least one turnover in 24 straight games, maybe it's not that surprising.
Cam Newton introduced some interesting aerial strategies to the football world Thursday night: The rocketball to the receiver 8 yards away in the end zone; the low, no-touch pass on the back-shoulder fade; and of course, an all-time classic, the meaningless, let's-throw-this-one-sidearm-for-fun toss over the middle. Panthers fans must be so frustrated.
It was a bye week in Chicago, meaning either a) too many days to reflect on where the Bears' defense learned to suck this bad (watching the Cubs?) or b) an outstanding opportunity to right the ship schematically and motivationally. By the way, the tiny drop was necessary to reward the Rams' huge upset. That team is trending in a different direction than this one, at least over the past few weeks.
The Falcons were another team that had last week off -- and thus did not move. Unfortunately, Atlanta had to stew for an extra week over blowing that second half against the Lions. Next up: at Tampa Bay. The Bucs might be looking to exact some revenge for that horrific blowout in September, but this matchup should go to the ATL.
Given where the Titans have been this year -- which is to say, down in the dumps -- perhaps Ken Whisenhunt's debut season in Nashville has nowhere to go but up! One thing is certain: In the bye week, Zach Mettenberger had the opportunity to produce some serious selfies in a dark, creepy film room. (Do they even have those anymore, with the convenience of the interwebs?) There's nothing wrong with locking oneself away with game tape -- the benefit of having two weeks to prepare for your second career start ... against a ticked-off Baltimore team.
The Buccaneers receive a small lift, thanks to the close road loss (as well as the Jets' unfortunate QB situation). Looked like Lovie Smith might eke out his second win with Tampa ... then the secondary happened. We'll say this: At least the Bucs have competed in the past two weeks, having taken the Vikings to overtime and forced the favored Browns to win in the last minute. There might be no moral victories, but there are some at-least-we-played-football-today sentiments.
Jags fans caught a glimpse of what Blake Bortles can do when he doesn't commit multiple turnovers. But more importantly, Jacksonville has found a player in Denard Robinson. The letdown Sunday, of course, was the run defense, which -- with the game on the line -- made the Bengals really work for the game-clinching score. And when I say "really work," I mean Cincy had to run one play. Sigh.
Another loss, another day in Gang Green's quarterback nightmare, with the injury to Michael Vick. He didn't play poorly, but he certainly isn't the future, either. And with the Jets not developing one -- a future QB, that is -- they drop below the Jags. Meanwhile, the defense competed Sunday, and despite what the score might seem to indicate, Kansas City didn't exactly blow the doors off offensively -- i.e., this was not Kyle Orton II. If New York could get it going on third down with one healthy, effective quarterback, Rex and the boys could start stringing more than cheese together.
Would love to write something positive -- and new -- here. I mean, how sick are you getting of the "At least we made it close" pick-me-up? Oakland needs a win -- period. OK, cool. So who's on the docket this week? Denver. Yay.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.