NFL Power Rankings, Week 7: 49ers eyeing No. 1; Texans surge

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I so badly wanted to crown a new No. 1 in the Power Rankings this week. Couldn't pull the trigger. But we do have a very new-looking top five to break down. Let's get to it.

NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 6 Power Rankings.

RANK

1

PATRIOTS (6-0)

Previous rank: No. 1

Another week, another lopsided win against an overmatched opponent. An ultra-accommodating early schedule has made the Patriots a difficult team to analyze. Given the up-and-down nature of the offense, you can make the case that Pats should drop in an exercise like this. But then again, the defending Super Bowl champions are 6-0 -- why should they be anywhere other than No. 1? All that said, let's table the discussion about where this very good New England defense sits among Bill Belichick's -- or the NFL's -- all-time best until that schedule toughens up. And eventually it will ... just not yet. Belichick will get the 1-4 Jets and 2-4 Browns in the next two weeks.

RANK

2

49ERS (5-0)

2

Previous rank: No. 4

Quite a six-day span for the Niners, who stole the Browns' souls on "Monday Night Football," then bullied their former tormenters with a convincing win over the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday. Again, the defense keyed the victory, holding Sean McVay's once-unstoppable attack to just 157 yards of total offense. Los Angeles marched 56 yards down the field on seven consecutive runs to score the game's opening touchdown, then was held scoreless the rest of the way. The game's biggest sequence began on third-and-goal with the Rams 1 yard away from a go-ahead score late in the second quarter. The 49ers stuffed two Rams rush attempts for no gain, and Los Angeles never reached the red zone again. The Rams' next six drives after that goal-line scuffle totaled zero yards. The Niners have the best defense in the NFC -- maybe the NFL -- right now. They're for real.

RANK

3

SAINTS (5-1)

1

Previous rank: No. 2

The Saints are now 4-0 since Drew Brees went on the shelf with a thumb injury. The defense once more did the heavy lifting in a 13-6 win over the Jaguars. Said Sean Payton after the game: "I told our defense, if we would've played eight quarters today, I don't think they would have scored a touchdown, honestly." That's some serious swagger from the coach, but his confidence is understandable, given New Orleans' monster efforts week after week on defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's side of the ball. This is all playing out ideally for the Saints, who are winning every week without having to worry about a distracting and potentially chemistry-altering quarterback controversy. Teddy Bridgewater (who's been fine overall) will go back to No. 2 status when Brees is ready. And when Brees is ready, the Saints could go Full Juggernaut.

RANK

4

PACKERS (5-1)

1

Previous rank: No. 5

No wide receivers, no problem for Aaron Rodgers, who always seems to find a way to tear out the hearts of the Lions. His 35-yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard was the type of throw that only a few quarterbacks in the league can make. No one makes it look more routine. Rodgers was at his best again on the drive that ended the game, a seven-minute march that finished with Mason Crosby's chip-shot field goal as time expired. Rodgers brought the Pack back without Davante Adams (out with turf toe) and Geronimo Allison (who exited the game in the third quarter with a head/chest injury). Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst should consider adding a wide receiver at the trade deadline if the opportunity presents itself.

RANK

5

SEAHAWKS (5-1)

2

Previous rank: No. 7

The Seahawks are one of the few teams that can fall behind by double-digits on the road and still be in the game without much concern. That's how it goes when your quarterback is Russell Wilson, who might be playing the best football of his life in his eighth NFL season. Wilson was a menace against a Browns team that badly needed a win, leading Seattle down the field time and time again while Baker Mayfield made the type of mistakes you simply never see from Wilson. Our favorite Wilson play on Sunday was the 17-yard dime to Jaron Brown, a pass that would be difficult to pull off for most quarterbacks in a clean pocket. Wilson dropped it in the bucket while getting driven into the turf. The man is unstoppable right now, and a truly great quarterback can carry a whole team on his back without breaking a sweat. That's what we're seeing in Seattle.

RANK

6

TEXANS (4-2)

6

Previous rank: No. 12

Nice little Sunday for Deshaun Watson, who went on the road to Arrowhead and outplayed the reigning MVP in a huge AFC win. The 31-24 final doesn't quite tell the story of the ease with which the Texans pushed around the Chiefs' struggling defense. Houston, which never punted, would have flirted with a 50-burger if not for some brutal drops (hi, Will Fuller) and multiple missed kicks (one field-goal try, one extra-point attempt) by Ka'imi Fairbairn, who could have a lot of free time on his hands in the very near future. Carlos Hyde (116 yards, one TD on the ground) and Duke Johnson (54 scrimmage yards, one touchdown catch on seven touches) have become a rock-solid 1-2 punch in the backfield, while Houston's offensive line put its early-season struggles deeper in the rearview after another excellent performance. The Texans are the clear class of the AFC South and should have the inside track alongside the Patriots for a first-round bye. Looks like Bill O'Brien knew what he was doing after all.

RANK

7

CHIEFS (4-2)

4

Previous rank: No. 3

Should we be worried about the Chiefs? Earlier this season, with the defense stout and Patrick Mahomes playing at a legendary level, Kansas City looked unstoppable. But in the past two weeks? The Chiefs have been eminently beatable in losses to the Colts and Texans. Mahomes' tender ankle was giving him problems again on Sunday, but the biggest concern is a defense that couldn't get a stop. And I don't mean that figuratively: Houston never punted as it piled up 472 yards of total offense in Arrowhead. This defense badly misses Chris Jones, who was out with a groin injury, and we haven't seen anyone else on the unit step up to stop the bleeding. Mahomes won't always be perfect, but right now, the Chiefs aren't good enough to win when he's off his game.

RANK

8

VIKINGS (4-2)

8

Previous rank: No. 16

We come to praise Kirk Cousins. The Vikings quarterback was a punching bag when the offense was slumping earlier this month, so it's only fair we point out how excellent Cousins was, both in Week 5 against the Giants and -- especially -- on Sunday against the Eagles. Cousins shredded Philadelphia's milquetoast secondary, finishing with four touchdowns and 333 yards on 22-of-29 passing. Three of those scores went to Stefon Diggs, who stepped into a starring role one week after Adam Thielen went off for 7/130/2 against the Giants. And, hey, those were the two teammates who made no secret about their disappointment in the offense (read: Cousins) after the Vikings were shut down by the Bears in Week 4. Cousins is no dummy -- you want to keep your best guys happy. That's what he's done in back-to-back wins.

RANK

9

BEARS (3-2)

2

Previous rank: No. 11

The Bears, thanks to a Week 6 bye, have to sit with that Raiders loss for two weeks, which we can imagine is not the most pleasant feeling. When Chicago returns to the field against New Orleans this Sunday, the goal inside the building has to be getting this offense on track before it ruins the season. The Bears entered Week 6 ranked 28th in points per game, 30th in total offense, 26th in rushing yards per game and 30th in big plays (defined as a reception of 20-plus yards or a rush of 10-plus yards). The Bears do have a player who's good at all that stuff when given a chance -- that would be running back Tarik Cohen, who already had nine such "big plays" through five games a year ago. In 2019? He has just one, despite being healthy and available each week. Bears coach Matt Nagy needs to get Cohen involved.

RANK

10

BILLS (4-1)

Previous rank: No. 10

I am not here to throw any cold water on the Bills and their optimistic fans (though I will, if one is on fire in the parking lot), but the NFL Research Department reports that the last two times the Bills began the season 4-1, they finished with a losing record (6-10 in 2011 and 7-9 in 2008). Consider it a gentle reminder of how much things can change from October to January, rather than a prediction of football doom for the denizens of Western New York. After all, this Buffalo team won't live and die on Fitzmagic. There are many contributors, including the venerable Frank Gore, who leads an NFL team -- a good NFL team -- in rushing in the year 2019. How about that? Gore's 333 rushing yards are the most by a player 36 or older in five games since 1950. Frank Gore probably remembers 1950. Frank Gore will live forever.

RANK

11

COWBOYS (3-3)

3

Previous rank: No. 8

From 3-0 to 3-3. Life comes at you fast. We saw a lot of raging Texans (the people of Texas, not the football team in Houston) calling for Jason Garrett's head after a 24-22 loss to the previously winless Jets at the Meadowlands. To which we say: R-E-L-A-X. The Cowboys right now are a beat-up team that went on the road and narrowly lost to a Jets squad that's far more competent than its win-loss record indicated. (Going from Luke Falk to Sam Darnold has a way of flipping the script for an offense.) Dallas actually showed impressive resolve in nearly wiping out a 21-3 first-half deficit -- Dak Prescott came within a failed two-point conversion of tying the game in the final minute of regulation. The Cowboys might not be the 14-2 juggernaut some fans expected at one point, but they remain on solid footing in the NFC East despite their losing streak.

RANK

12

PANTHERS (4-2)

3

Previous rank: No. 15

A fine all-around performance in London for the Panthers, who proved they can have their way with opponents even when Christian McCaffrey isn't performing like a superhero. Which isn't to say McCaffrey was neutralized -- CMC had two touchdowns, including a 25-yard score in which he broke the ankles of half the Bucs' secondary. But this was a team effort spearheaded by a defense that had Jameis Winston shook from his first throw ( an interception, naturally). And on the same day NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Cam Newton was no lock to get his job back once recovered from a foot injury, Kyle Allen threw two touchdown passes and again looked every bit the part of a quality NFL starter. The intrigue thickens for the surging Panthers.

RANK

13

LIONS (2-2-1)

Previous rank: No. 13

A brutal loss for the Lions, who have every right to be furious after a pair of bogus illegal-hands-to-the-face penalties on Trey Flowers all but doomed them in the fourth quarter. In Detroit, we imagine these blown calls might paper over the Lions' shortcomings, which included blowing a 13-point lead, settling for five field goals on multiple trips to the Packers' side of the field and allowing 100 yards rushing on the ground for the fifth consecutive game. The Lions once again proved they can hang with the NFL's best teams ... but can they get over the hump?

RANK

14

COLTS (3-2)

Previous rank: No. 14

The Colts could have been crushed by Andrew Luck's retirement, but quality play by Jacoby Brissett and one of the league's best running games has kept Indy moving forward. Only two teams in the league run the ball more than the Colts, who are averaging close to 32 rushing attempts per game. The bell cow here is Marlon Mack, who has had a Christian McCaffrey-level workload through the team's first five games. Entering Week 6, Mack and McCaffrey were the only running backs in football with at least 100 rushing attempts. Mack isn't delivering CMC-level production (nobody is), but he's making the most of his new role: Mack ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (470) through five weeks.

RANK

15

EAGLES (3-3)

9

Previous rank: No. 6

We have to send the Eagles back to Power Rankings purgatory after a virtual no-show against the Vikings in Minneapolis. This was an ugly game for Doug Pederson's team, which could not move the ball consistently on offense and was helpless to stop Vikings QB Kirk Cousins from building his comeback narrative on their backs. Concerns in the secondary were temporarily tabled during Week 5's walk-through (well, technically, it was a real game against a Luke Falk-led Jets offense), but those worries move back to the forefront after Cousins threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns. Jim Schwartz is one of the better defensive coordinators in the league, but does he have the pieces to get the back end stabilized? If not, the NFL's better quarterbacks are going to torch the Iggles into irrelevance by December.

RANK

16

RAMS (3-3)

7

Previous rank: No. 9

From a regular-season perspective, Sunday was the low moment of the Sean McVay era in Los Angeles. The Rams' offense -- once the envy of the league -- was held to just 157 yards in a humbling 20-7 loss to the undefeated 49ers at the Coliseum. Jared Goff put up the type of numbers that would have looked bad even during his Jeff Fisher days (13-of-24 passing for 78 yards), his job made infinitely more difficult by an offensive line that has gone from team strength to liability seemingly overnight. And while it would be grossly premature to declare the Rams out of the NFC West race, the fact of the matter is, they're now three games back, with a head-to-head loss to division-leading San Francisco on their ledger. McVay has been hailed as a young genius -- can he use those brains to fix a broken offense before it's too late?

RANK

17

RAVENS (4-2)

Previous rank: No. 17

On paper, a Week 6 matchup against the winless Bengals looked like a nice spot for Lamar Jackson to return to superhuman status ... and that's exactly what happened. Jackson made history, in fact, becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era to go over 200 yards passing and 150 yards rushing in a regular-season game. (Colin Kaepernick accomplished this feat in the 2012 playoffs.) Jackson -- who, let's again remind ourselves, is the Ravens' starting quarterback -- currently ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing with 460 yards. On Sunday, Jackson fell 21 yards short of Michael Vick's NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a game (173, set in 2002), but we imagine Jackson will snag that mark in time. The second-year star is not a finished product as a passer, but he is a truly unique weapon on an offense that can be unstoppable when it gets humming.

RANK

18

RAIDERS (3-2)

1

Previous rank: No. 19

As we learned from Jon Gruden's instant-classic postgame speech from Tottenham Hotspur Stadium two Sundays ago, the Raiders players got a week off after reaching the bye at 3-2 following a huge win over the Bears. This felt like a wise decision by Chucky. The Raiders are in the midst of a 49-day stretch of games away from Oakland, and Oakland players could probably use some family-and-friends time right about now. Their last true home game was in Week 2 against the Chiefs. They won't return to the Black Hole until Week 9 against the Lions. Two players off to impressive starts for Oakland: Quarterback Derek Carr, whose 73.3 percent completion percentage is flirting with Drew Brees' all-time mark (74.4), and running back Josh Jacobs, who has the most rushing yards by a Raiders rookie through the team's first five games of the season (430).

RANK

19

STEELERS (2-4)

7

Previous rank: No. 26

Rookie linebacker Devin Bush has all the looks of a young star for the Steelers defense. This from ESPN.com: In Sunday's 24-17 win over the Chargers, Bush became the first Steeler to record a touchdown, an interception and a fumble recovery in the same game since Deshea Townsend in 2003 against the Chargers. Bush's game has been coming together in recent weeks and he gives the Steelers a presence in the middle of their defense that's been missing since Ryan Shazier injured his back. At 2-4, the Steelers are hanging around in the middling AFC North.

RANK

20

BRONCOS (2-4)

5

Previous rank: No. 25

Vic Fangio's defense has finally arrived. Better late than never. The unit was dominant on Sunday against the Titans, shutting out the visiting team and possibly ending the Marcus Mariota era in Tennessee in the process. You know you had a good day when you can get the opposition to question its entire identity. The Broncos piled up seven sacks and three turnovers against the Titans in the team's first shutout in two years. A huge test awaits on Thursday, when the Broncos meet Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. A win there, and Denver will have successfully rebooted its season despite that grim 0-4 start.

RANK

21

JAGUARS (2-4)

1

Previous rank: No. 20

The Gardner Minshew Hero Journey is on hold. Facing a fierce Saints defense, Minshew was jumpy in the pocket and inaccurate with his throws in a 13-6 loss. New Orleans did a good job taking away breakout playmaker D.J. Chark, and the Jags didn't have another receiver who could step up to help their rookie quarterback. The good news for Jacksonville is that the schedule gods have bequeathed them the Bengals in Week 7. An ideal setup for a get-right game for Minshew and friends.

RANK

22

CHARGERS (2-4)

4

Previous rank: No. 18

It wasn't a great Sunday night for the Chargers, who let the Steelers come into their building, play their music and walk out with a 24-17 win that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates. Slow starts are killing the Chargers right now. They've been outscored 38-0 in the first half of the last two games, and this team is simply not good enough to pull itself out of these big early deficits. The only good news? The division-leading Chiefs have also lost their past two games, a slump that's kept Kansas City from running away from everyone.

RANK

23

BROWNS (2-4)

2

Previous rank: No. 21

Seven days, two losses and infinite ammunition for those who believed the Football Cognoscenti were far too hasty to pump up this Browns team as an AFC power player during the summer. On Sunday against the Seahawks, Cleveland jumped out to a 20-6 lead, fell behind in the second half, then jumped back ahead by three points with 9:06 left to play. This was the time when the defense needed to get the stop and send the Browns into their bye at 3-3. Instead, Russell Wilson marched Seattle 79 yards on nine plays for the go-ahead score. When it was Baker Mayfield's turn to answer, he threw his third interception of the game and league-worst 11th of the season. It was a frustrating loss that neatly encapsulated Cleveland's season as a whole. Hope. Flashes of greatness. Disappointment.

RANK

24

TITANS (2-4)

2

Previous rank: No. 22

Marcus Mariota has used up the last of his rope. The Titans selected the former Oregon star with the second overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, and ever since, the team has been waiting for Mariota to fulfill his potential as rivals loaded up with legitimate star quarterbacks through the draft. On Sunday against the Broncos, in the midst of another turgid performance in which he failed to even so much as move his team past midfield, the Titans yanked Mariota from the lineup. Ryan Tannehill didn't fare much better, but that really doesn't matter. Whether he finishes the season as the team's starter or not, the Titans have now formally initiated the process of moving on from Mariota.

RANK

25

JETS (1-4)

5

Previous rank: No. 30

Welcome back, kid. Sam Darnold returned to the Jets' starting lineup after losing four weeks to mono and played like he never missed a rep. Darnold was a godsend for a Jets offense that had been tragically inept with Trevor Siemian and Luke Falk under center. Against the Cowboys, Darnold led the Jets on three touchdown drives in the first half -- two more than New York had in three games without him. The highlight was a gorgeous 92-yard scoring hookup with Robby Anderson (back from football Siberia) that showed off Darnold's natural pocket presence and enviable touch on deep balls. The Jets' defense, meanwhile, continued to play at a solid level, holding the Cowboys to just two long first-half field goals before getting a stop on the biggest play of the game: a Dallas two-point conversion try in the final minute blown up by a blitzing Jamal Adams. The Jets have hope.

RANK

26

GIANTS (2-4)

3

Previous rank: No. 23

The Giants didn't shock the world against the Patriots -- they've already checked that box for a millennia, anyway -- but there was no reason to hide in shame after a 35-14 loss. Playing without running back Saquon Barkley (ankle), tight end Evan Engram (knee), receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion) and running back Wayne Gallman (concussion), New York still managed to stay within striking distance of the defending world champs for most of the game. We saw progress from a defense that entered Thursday ranked 30th overall. Markus Golden returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown, and Janoris Jenkins intercepted a Tom Brady pass that negated a Daniel Jones pick one play earlier. Speaking of Jones and picks, he's up to eight turnovers in four starts (nine total). These are marks of typical growing pains for a rookie who will get plenty of reps during a developmental season in the Meadowlands.

RANK

27

CARDINALS (2-3-1)

1

Previous rank: No. 28

Now that is the performance Cardinals fans have been waiting for. On Sunday, Kyler Murray played Matt Ryan to a draw in an exciting showdown between the 2016 MVP and a first overall pick who has the potential to win his own trophy one day. That won't be in 2019, but Murray's performance in the Cardinals' win -- 27-of-37 passing, 340 yards, three TDs, zero picks, 32 rushing yards -- served notice that Arizona has a quarterback who is as talented as any young player in the NFL. Murray will need time to develop, of course, and it's on Cardinals brass to improve the roster around him. But against the Falcons, we saw how he can tie an opposing defense into knots with his dual-threat capabilities.

RANK

28

FALCONS (1-5)

1

Previous rank: No. 27

Don't blame this bust of a Falcons season on Matt Ryan; the veteran quarterback remains as good as ever. On Sunday against the Cardinals, Ryan threw for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a dominant performance that fell short when Matt Bryant failed to convert a PAT that would have tied the game at 34 late in the fourth quarter. How rare was the Bryant flub? The veteran had only missed three extra-point attempts in his past 11 years in the league. It's just one of those years for the Falcons.

RANK

29

BUCCANEERS (2-4)

5

Previous rank: No. 24

The Bucs played like a team dealing with heavy jet lag in London. The defense couldn't rattle Panthers QB Kyle Allen, the offensive line couldn't block and the ever-maddening Jameis Winston reverted to the mistake-filled football optimistic fans hoped he'd been working out of his system earlier this month. Winston was under constant duress, sacked on seven occasions and hit 10 times. He threw five interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one. Winston wasn't the only reason the Bucs got blown out, but how many more of these sloppy performances do Bucs brass have to see before deciding Tampa's future doesn't include the former No. 1 pick? At some point, he needs to put together a long stretch of consistent play. The clock is ticking.

RANK

30

BENGALS (0-6)

1

Previous rank: No. 29

The Zac Taylor era is not off to a good start. The Bengals brought in the young coach to reboot a sagging offense, but the Andy Dalton-led unit unquestionably has taken a step back through six weeks. Not having superstar wide receiver A.J. Green has certainly played a part, but that doesn't fully explain why the Bengals have regressed to the winless mess they are right now. The offense isn't the only problem, however. The Bengals' D continues to be one of the worst in the league at stopping the run. We are up to three teams that have rushed for at least 250 yards in a game against Cincinnati this season.

RANK

31

REDSKINS (1-5)

Previous rank: No. 31

Hey, a win's a win ... even when it comes against the Dolphins. Let's focus on Terry McLaurin, the rookie wide receiver who's been one of Washington's few bright spots this season. McLaurin had four catches for 100 yards on Sunday, including two touchdowns. He's tied for second in the NFL with five TD grabs, especially impressive when your remember he's done it with the Redskins' pu pu platter of quarterbacks this season.

RANK

32

DOLPHINS (0-5)

Previous rank: No. 32

So close, yet so far. Here's a truly terrifying stat concerning Josh Rosen and his performance in Week 6 against the Redskins: According to Next Gen Stats, Rosen's air yards to the sticks was -8.9 -- meaning he averaged throwing 8.9 yards short of the line to gain -- the lowest AYTS game for any QB this season. The young man was not competitive, which tells you why Ryan Fitzpatrick found his way back on the field. Both QBs deserve a better fate.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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