ATNFL's midseason power poll: Patriots lead the way

"I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth." -- Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried.

Each time we update our power poll, there is the inevitable skull-against-wall thud we are faced with after realizing that an offseason full of well-meaning projections are worth about as much as the browned pine needles dotting your soon to be frozen backyard (which need to be raked, by the way). Unlike O'Brien's observation, NFL truth is in facts and numbers. Standings and percentages. Most of us would welcome some nebulous outside force to blame for our failures, but instead we hump the data of one half the season on our backs and continue this Sisyphean journey uphill.

Without further ado, here is your midseason power poll, compiled faithfully by the heroes of Around The NFL:

Potential February ring-wearers

1. New England Patriots

2. Dallas Cowboys

3. Seattle Seahawks

4. Denver Broncos

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

6. Atlanta Falcons

The Patriots have captured the imagination -- or lack thereof -- of our crew once again. A robotic Tom Brady is on pace to pass for roughly 40 touchdowns and no interceptions. Add in a sheen of professionalism not seen in the NFL elsewhere makes them a safe and comfortable bet to roll through the remainder of the season untouched.

Only one -- yours truly -- deviated from the standard to offer up a different team atop our power rankings: The Oakland Raiders. More on that, and the meaning of chaos, later.

The rest of our potential Super Bowl winners are a fairly standard, if imperfect bunch. The Falcons have gotten us to this level of belief before only to tumble down the rankings and out of the playoff race. The Seahawks are still dominant, but are missing the 100-percent mobility of their excellent quarterback. The Cowboys are strong, but are starting a rookie that may have been exposed by ace defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Sunday Night Football.

Knocking on the door

7. Oakland Raiders

8. Green Bay Packers

9. Minnesota Vikings

10. Kansas City Chiefs

11. Philadelphia Eagles

12. San Diego Chargers

So, why the Raiders at No. 1? When voting in a power poll against other analysts, sometimes the only way to ensure a team you like floats to their proper place is to game the system a bit.

As you'll remember, the Carolina Panthers were in the low 20s during my quarter-pole power rankings due to a projected slide. The massive deviation from the mean helped accurately reflect where they belonged in the polls, at least according to me.

Coming off an overtime win against the Buccaneers where they allowed an NFL record 23 penalties for 200 yards, head coach Jack Del Rio has the Raiders carefree and headed in the right direction coming into a massively important game against the Denver Broncos in prime-time this weekend. But even if they lose, their remaining slate of games -- Texans, Panthers, Bills, Chiefs, Chargers and Colts -- seems absolutely navigable.

Some of the teams that gave our heroes the most trouble? The Philadelphia Eagles, who wandered as low as 18 and as high as No. 4 in our own Marc Sessler's poll. Sessler's read on quarterback Carson Wentz has been dead on since he first emerged on the scene as a prospect in February and we should not count it out now.

I, for one, find it refreshing that are views are scattershot, just like the American electorate.

Stuck in the middle

13. Cincinnati Bengals

14. Washington Redskins

15. Buffalo Bills

16. Carolina Panthers

17. Arizona Cardinals

18. New York Giants

19. New Orleans Saints

20-T. Houston Texans

20-T. Baltimore Ravens

22. Detroit Lions

23. Tennessee Titans

The Bengals, Redskins, Bills, Panthers and Cardinals represent the teams we are not ready to let go of yet. The second tier is fickle and, unlike the English Premiere League, can be attained without an injection of millions from a business tycoon. Carolina's strong performance against the Cardinals rose them from the ashes a bit, earning them a nine, 14 and 15 ranking from some of our analysts. Is a run in store?

Wait until next year

24. Miami Dolphins

25. Los Angeles Rams

26. Indianapolis Colts

27. New York Jets

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

29. Chicago Bears

The Bears gave us great joy on Monday night. Jay Cutler, when present and interested, can make an exceptional quarterback and showed some flashes against the Minnesota Vikings. John Fox's relentless pass rush also helped Chicago climb out of the bottomless pit toward the bottom of our power poll.

This group had some of the most uniform opinion across the board, with the Dolphins, Rams, Colts, Jets and Bucs representing our collective sighs.

Future creators of league parody

30. Jacksonville Jaguars 

31. Cleveland Browns 

32. San Francisco 49ers

What else is there to say? This was a fairly simple projection. The Browns are winless, the Jaguars have springboard potential in a mediocre division and the 49ers look the most likely to finish the season with the league’s worst record. In these cases, there is no story-truth. Only happening-truth.