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NFL Power Rankings, Week 9: Broncos make move at midseason

It's midseason. Quite an appropriate time to peruse the general ledger of the NFL and attempt to sort out where the teams stand in our Week 9 Power Rankings.

This week on, you'll find our analysts' predictions on the major awards, playoff participants and Super Bowl 50 -- basically, a multi-input semester report card. Wish we could tell you the top 12 clubs found here represent the playoff field in January, but with crummy divisions like the NFC East and AFC South, that's not happening. On the flip side, stout defense has given the AFC West quality representation at the midway point ...

On third thought, you're a little pushy, Yunus. Midseason Report Card: A.

Warring factions, huh? It's like "Game of Thrones" up in here.

The entire league hierarchy, with half the regular season in the books, can be found below. We had serious movement everywhere: the top 10, middle 10 and bottom grouping. Send me your take and I will listen to the logic: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Oct. 27 Power Rankings.

PREVIOUS RANKINGS: Week 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Preseason

Hard to figure these guys rolling the way they are. Two quick theories (among 165) on the Patriots' dominance:

 **1)** There's been continuity at the top, from ownership to Bill Belichick to the staff down to the quarterback. Too often, organizations move on from head coaches too soon, which means successful coordinators don't stay in place, either. 
 Rob Gronkowski's unique career. For all the talk of the 2007 
 Patriots having Randy Moss while 
 *this* team's best wideout is 
 Julian Edelman, bear in mind that Gronk is more unique than Moss was. Gronk doesn't take plays off, he can block, and he plays outside or inside. He's the big, goofy, focused queen on the chessboard. 

Love Vernon Davis. His addition via trade Monday was the sole reason for Denver's leap in the Power Rankings. Or not. Rather, the dominant showing from Wade Phillips' defense vaults this team into the top two. The Broncos authored what many would call a statement win Sunday night. And the statement was this: Our defense isn't merely good, it's the best in the league, while our offense and its quarterback can move the ball on anyone. Perhaps Peyton Manning and Gary Kubiak were simply working out the kinks in September and October. Large kinks, but still. Doesn't really matter if Denver is 7-0, huh? Everyone is circling Nov. 29 -- Patriots at Broncos on Sunday night -- on the schedule. Wonder if the thin Mile High air affects the inflation level of footballs.

The Bengals are 7-0 and seen as different in the eyes of the masses right now. This organization boasts the most talented roster in the NFL and certainly deserves to be atop the AFC North. But to be clear, Cincinnati didn't look too hot Sunday. The Steelers lost Le'Veon Bell to his season-ending injury early, while Ben Roethlisberger was playing his first game after missing well over a month with a knee injury of his own. The key is that the Bengals' defense was able to hold down the fort late in a game that saw the offense largely stink up the joint (especially on third down). On another note, Andy Dalton's shaved-side updo deserves way more respect. Is that Clipper 1?

Well that got interesting, huh? The Colts' furious comeback should take nothing away from Carolina's 11 straight regular-season wins. Sure, the lack of a pass rush is a concern, and Ted Ginn Jr.'s hands aren't too comforting, either ... but at least one can be corrected.

The D came up big in the extra period, with Luke Kuechly catching Roman Harper's rebound and essentially sending us all to bed peacefully.

The Packers got Talib'd and Harris'd on Sunday night. It's that simple. The pass rush gave Aaron Rodgers fits, but that's because the Broncos' coverage was good -- much better than what I get with my Sprint plan, that's for sure. No. 12 was looking more like Lynn Dickey in his last year -- minus the white-guy 'fro -- than the best quarterback in the game. Honestly, he hasn't been the same since late September. Unbelievably, Green Bay totaled only 50 net passing yards, which weren't as spectacular as these fifffty yards.

Hey, Saturday was Halloween -- so cool of the Cardinals to give their fans a real scare in Cleveland. It was also appropriate for 2015, as the so-called "quality" teams have been falling aplenty to the lower-barrel clubs. On another note, with the Packers getting crushed in Denver, the argument for Arizona being the premier club in the NFC certainly picked up steam. The Cards continue to feed off takeaways (putting up 10 points off turnovers on Sunday) while averaging 32.7 points per game, second to only the top team in the NFL, the Patriots.

Winning ugly can turn into losing ugly real quick in a league with such little disparity between the haves and have-nots. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan put up decent numbers in Sunday's overtime defeat to the Bucs, but he suffered from multiple turnovers, including a pick and a fumble of his own. When those weren't thwarting drives, penalties were -- Atlanta racked up 11 for 124 yards, which is unreal. The one consistent performer continues to be at running back, not quarterback. Devonta Freeman now has more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage in half a season.

Nice division win on the road for Minnesota, which, at 5-2, is starting to make noise in the NFC. In fact, if the season ended today, the Vikings and Falcons would be your two NFC wild-card teams. Make no mistake, Minnesota's schedule will get much tougher: the Rams come into town Sunday, then it's at Raiders, vs. Packers, at Falcons, vs. Seahawks and at Cardinals. Winning three of those six would count as a decent showing for Mike Zimmer's club.

"I didn't make good throws." That was Ben Roethlisberger after Sunday's loss to the Bengals, with two fourth-quarter interceptions costing the Steelers a potential divisional win sans their most dynamic player. Pittsburgh's defense has grown up faster than anyone expected, keeping the Steelers in the contest. OK, so now would be the appropriate time to mention the Le'Veon Bell injury. Yep, it changes everything in the AFC. Wanted to keep the bad news last.

Another win for the resurgent Raiders, who put on an offensive display in the first half of this very important victory. Looking at the playoff picture in the AFC, Oakland now has a leg up on the Jets in the wild-card fight and could widen its lead on the Le'Veon Bell-less Steelers at Heinz Field this weekend. And for those who thought this Raiders air attack was too Amari-centric, that was Andre Holmes, Michael Crabtree and Taiwan Jones out there making Jets tacklers look silly Sunday.

It's Geno Smith's fault the Jets lost in Oakland. Wasn't he wearing No. 31 in white on that Michael Crabtree touchdown? Why wasn't his coverage on Andre Holmes tighter?

Everyone in America watching a short Jets-Raiders highlight package probably said "Uh huh" when learning Smith was the quarterback for this defeat. The inconvenient truth is that No. 7 didn't fare too poorly. His lone turnover did not result in any Raiders points, and while he didn't set the football world on fire, he did make plays to keep the offense viable. Especially when you consider that Chris Ivory and Zac Stacy rushed 18 times for 28 yards.

It was a bye week in Philly, and hopefully ... hopefully ... we all got closer to answering a question that has been nagging many who watch this team, including your friendly writer: Why, in this offense, is Ryan Mathews not getting the ball more? Mathews is more explosive than DeMarco Murray, which is hugely important, given that most of the runs come out of shotgun. Health -- not talent -- was always the question with Mathews.

The Rams move to 4-3 and right into wild-card contention with a ho-hum win over the once-formidable 49ers. While a victory over this divisional rival doesn't carry the same juice as it did in the past now that San Francisco has gone through what is often termed the Kaepernick Regression, St. Louis is 3-0 in the NFC West, and that's the logline from Sunday.

On another note, as for those colleagues who said I was premature when suggesting Todd Gurley could catch Amari Cooper in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race ... hmm.

Tell me, Seahawks fans, that you didn't know that go-ahead Seattle drive late in Sunday's win over Dallas was going to become Russell Wilson left, Russell Wilson right. Watching the end of that one, it was painfully obvious how Seattle was going to matriculate the ball down the field (30 rushing yards for No. 3 on that one possession). If the Seahawks keep playing Matt Cassel-, Matt Stafford- and Matt Schaub-led teams this close, they will find themselves on the outside looking in come January. (I know they haven't played Schaub, but it made the sentence sound cool -- you get the point.)

Eli Manning and Drew Brees put on a show out there in the Big Easy on Sunday. Offensive Football Made Easy by both offenses. (Anyone remember Fitness Made Simple?) Unfortunately, the timing of the secondary -- and Brad Wing's untimely penalty -- ruined an opportunity to extend the NFC East lead. Still, what a game! Let's hope JPP is not only doing well, but can help this defense.

It was an off week for those worrisome Bills. Clearly, this football team is different with T-Mobile -- who missed the last two games -- running that offense than it is behind the four-banger that is EJ Manuel (like a '94 Eagle Talon ... not that I would know). If offensive coordinator Greg Roman wants the Buffalo attack to fire on all cylinders, he could start by using LeSean McCoy -- who has not logged a 20-carry game yet -- in key spots. Just a suggestion.

Call it special to see Drew Brees dial it back to 2008 or 2011 and deliver a Brees-esque game in the thrilling 52-49 win over the Giants. Well, actually, I'm not sure "Brees-esque" accurately describes the performance, considering the great Saints quarterback had never thrown seven TD passes before Sunday. Brees- best? What a concert of offensive football. Had that game spilled into overtime, Brees could have threatened Norm Van Brocklin's 64-year-old NFL record for passing yards in a game (554). The Van Brocklin family thanks you, Brad Wing.

The Dan Campbell love affair ... Still going strong, Dolphins fans, or was it a two-week stand? Hopefully everyone will be patient, although it certainly would've been preferable to see Miami put up a bit of a fight in Foxborough, as opposed to taking a beatdown of the 7-36 variety. The Cameron Wake injury is devastating, and it really impacts what this team can do defensively. Looks like he won't be making this team, either. On to Buffalo ...

Another team that spent Week 8 on a bye -- and another group still trying to figure out its identity. While Kirk Cousins' budding career as a T-shirt salesman is taking off before our eyes, questions remain on the other side of the ball. Specifically, is this defense the unit that got torched in the first half against Tampa Bay in Week 7, or the one that shut it down after the break? Either way, Washington probably would be most effective riding a running back -- Alfred Morris? -- and playing January-style football from here on out. Don't ask Cousins to pull off what he did in Week 7 every Sunday.

Say this about the Colts: They sure made Monday night go from stale to intriguing to downright crazy. Andrew Luck's rally left many questioning why he didn't play that way all game, or why the offense can't routinely move the ball down the field that easily. Perhaps if Indy went up-tempo and spread the defense out all game, the Colts' attack would become more effective. The issue is pass protection. They can't expect every team to be like the Panthers, who weren't getting within 5 yards of Luck on several pass plays late. #randomfootballthoughts

Huge win for the Bucs, who blew a big lead for the second game in a row but finished the job this time around.

Here's my question, though: Is Lovie Smith really ballsy or really stupid? Allow me to explain ...

With two minutes remaining and the Bucs leading by a touchdown, Smith elected to go for it on fourth down from his own 40. Did I mention the Falcons had no timeouts? So instead of punting the ball away and forcing Matt Ryan to drive his team the majority of the field with zero clock stoppages at his disposal, Smith gambled on fourth-and-1 with a rookie quarterback. Tampa didn't convert, and Ryan drove the Falcons to paydirt, sending the game into overtime. Fortunately, the Bucs' defense -- which had itself a day, forcing four turnovers -- came up with a huge fourth-down stop in OT.

Still, the question remains, Bucs fans: You got love for Lovie's aggressiveness? (@HarrisonNFL)

Matt Cassel sure looked fired up after a couple of nice runs against Seattle on Sunday. Thought he might moonwalk -- or pull off a dance-floor move from "Major Payne" -- after one of his first-down scampers. If only he could throw the ball so well ...

While the Dallas defense continues to perform, the Tony Romo-deficient offense painfully slogs its way through games. The Cowboys have gone 0-5 since their franchise QB went down, averaging just 17.2 points per game in that span. Romo is set to return from IR boomerang in Week 11, but will Dallas already be buried by then?

Well, here's the good news: The NFC East is wholly underwhelming. If you think 8-8 could be enough to take the division, then all is not lost quite yet. It'd sure be nice, though, if the Cowboys could at least win one of the next two games, handing the reins back to Romo with a 3-6 mark. Then it'd take five wins in Dallas' final seven games to reach .500. With Romo and the best defense in the division, that's not impossible.

Kansas City made believers out of a lot of people on Sunday -- or, at least, a lot of Londoners. What about the rest of us?

 **The case for unadulterated praise:** The 
 Chiefs didn't just defeat the sad-sack 
 Lions, they completely destroyed them. The offense looked better than it has all season. 
 **The case for responsible restraint:** Well, these 
 *are* the 
 Lions, featuring the Jim Bob Cooter offense. Apparently, the new coordinator couldn't fix everything with a hammer 
 like this Cooter. 

Side note: Glad to see Alex Smith start running (78 yards).

Saw many folks giving Josh McCown low marks for his performance versus the Cardinals. Here's the truth: The veteran quarterback was flat dealin' in the first half, staking the Browns to a double-digit lead. Then he took a few big hits in the second half and just wasn't the same. McCown entered this game with a banged-up shoulder, then was seen doubling over and grabbing his ribs in pain at various points after halftime. Think we can cut this guy a break? Or maybe the Browns should've given him some relief. Quarterbacks are not machines. In my book, McCown earned some stripes -- and not the ugly Bengals kind -- for doing his best to gut it out.

Jeremy Langford has to catch that football.

In a 20-20 ballgame, with 1:17 to play, the Bears had a wonderful opportunity to extend a drive and get Robbie Gould into field-goal position. On third-and-5, Jay Cutler, rolling to his right, hit Langford in the hands for what should've been an easy first down. Drop. Minnesota, appreciative of the gift -- and the clock preservation that comes from an incomplete pass -- took possession and ultimately the game. Another missed opportunity, another loss for the Bears.

Now, if Matt Forte misses time with a knee sprain, Langford must prove himself worthy of being the man in the backfield. Big shoes to fill, to say the least.

The beats were apparently off for Colin Kaepernick, whose rough outings in 2015 -- not to mention missing a so-wide-open-no-one-was-covering-him-at-all Torrey Smith in Sunday's loss -- have apparently outweighed past glory in the minds of the front office and coach Jim Tomsula. Enter "Blame" Gabbert, as he was so labeled in Jacksonville. At least it won't be his fault in San Francisco, where fans have grown accustomed to low-grade football this season.

First order of business: Congrats on another gut-check win for the Ravens, who simply refuse to pack it in this season. Now to the important stuff: The Ravens' most effective player on offense -- or defense, for that matter -- is out for the season. And if this proves to be the last play we ever see from Steve Smith Sr., what a shame for all football fans, not just those in Baltimore. There is hope, though. Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor had been contemplating retirement in 1992 before rupturing his Achilles. Then he decided he didn't want to end his career by leaving Giants Stadium on a cart. So let's wait and see on No. 89.

In what is devolving into a lost season for the Chargers, the running game -- or lack thereof -- primarily factored into a defeat yet again. Philip Rivers was mostly brilliant, but the QB can't be asked to continually overcome a crappy running game that barely averages over 3 yards a pop. The myriad injuries didn't help, either.

Of course, the all-important sequence from the loss in Baltimore will be that final drive, with the Steve Williams PI being the crucial play. It was a tough call at a time when San Diego certainly could've used a break.

Another bye team, which was somewhat unfortunate in that the Jags had to take a pause before attempting to carry over momentum from the big Week 7 win in London.

I'll tell you one thing: Fans around the country -- particularly fantasy owners -- are starting to notice the Allen boys. The production from the Jags' two second-year wideouts has been top-notch. Robinson and Hurns have combined for 65 receptions, but the most relevant statistic is that both are in the top 10 in yards per catch (Robinson at 17.2, Hurns at 16.5). It's not all dinks and dunks in Jacksonville.

What's with winning AFC quarterbacks sporting plaid postgame? Ryan Tannehill went with the "Eight Is Enough" button-down last week ... and Brian Hoyer apparently raided his Dolphins counterpart's closet before his postgame presser on Sunday. Winning: Making NFL quarterbacks stylish since 1920.

More importantly, the Texans' defense played ball, a week after getting pummeled in Miami. Coordinator Romeo Crennel has taken heat for the lack of fire in his unit. Well, Houston went nuts on Sunday, sacking Zach Mettenberger seven times, allowing one third-down conversion (in 12 tries) and holding the Titans to six points.

Maybe that 42-14 drubbing of the Bucs in Week 1 set expectations too high. Maybe 1-6 this season -- and 3-20 stretching back to 2014 -- was a putrid enough record for the Titans to say enough is enough. Or maybe Ken Whisenhunt was never tied to Marcus Mariota's early career arc, at least not in the eyes of the decision-makers in Nashville. Thus, in an odd move, given that the club decided to sink or swim with a rookie quarterback, Whisenhunt has been let go and replaced in the interim with another head-coaching castoff, Mike Mularkey. What a rough business NFL coaching is.

They're baaaaaaack. Yes, the Lions reclaimed the caboose spot in the Power Rankings. Jim Bob Cooter's offense sputtered for the Motor City's team in London. Ten points? Oh, and the lone TD came in garbage time. Yeah, not good enough. The overall situation for this team has hurtled into dumpster-fire territory, and it's hard not to feel for Lions fans who felt they got the short end of the stick last postseason. Getting back to the playoffs is never a given, that's for sure, but 1-7?

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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