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NFL Power Rankings, Week 9: Houston Texans rise despite loss

It's a quarterback league. The saying's cliché ... but true.

Monday night brought more than football, as news of the Jimmy Garoppolo trade got around quickly. Suddenly, 49ers faithful have hope under center, while Redskins fans might not have to scrap that Kirk Cousins jersey following this season after all. Oh, and the Patriots are now without a high-quality backup for their 40-year-old Hall of Famer.

How will Kyle Shanahan handle his new starter in San Francisco? Maybe he'll follow Bill O'Brien's lead, allowing the youngster to air it out. Yes, as sexy as the Garoppolo deal is, Watson should be the talk of Week 9 -- because of what he did during a narrow loss in Week 8. Throwing for 402 yards on the Seahawks -- in Seattle, mind you -- is hard enough. But with four touchdowns, as well as 67 yards on the ground? Come on. One big key to Watson's development has been O'Brien not calling for 5-yard ins and none-yard outs from his quarterback. Rather, O'Brien discarded the conservative coach's playbook to let his rookie play. Let's hope Shanahan does the same with Jimmy G.

You know what every young QB1 could really use? Field position.

No problem, Dante. You made the game fun -- and made Trent, Priest, Tony G and those guys even better.

The 2017 Chiefs stay in the top five. No changes anywhere in the top five, actually. Though the midsection of the Power Rankings is all in flux. Would love hearing your take on that middling group, as it's always the most challenging to rank: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for the "NFL Power Rankings" show. Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts at the bottom of this page or tweet @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Week 8 Power Rankings.

The Eagles stay perched in the top spot, Eagle-y. Thought at the beginning of the season that Philly had a real chance to be one of the wild-card teams, if not challenge for the NFC East title. Now fans are thinking home-field -- and why shouldn't they? Carson Wentz is a legit MVP candidate. The Eagles are playing solid ball on offense, defense and even made some hay on special teams Sunday. Perhaps most importantly, Philadelphia did what good teams are supposed to do against weak opponents, especially at home: win decisively. How many of the supposed contenders haven't done that this season? The Eagles are a top-flight team ... THE top-flight team.

Flying silently -- although never on Twitter -- is the work of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Broaching such hot topics as Medicare can only be surpassed by the performance of the defense he directs. That's why the Rams are so high. The upside of the defense means this team can get even better. After allowing 26.3 points per game over the first four contests of the season, the defense has shut the door, giving up a meager 11.0 ppg in the past three outings. Against the run, Phillips' unit is allowing 85.3 rush yards per game since Week 5. Before Week 5, that figure was at 151.2. Oh, and the defense is primarily responsible for winning the last two games, too.

With the Eagles winning big and the Rams on a bye this past weekend, the Steelers stick at No. 3. As noted last week on the "NFL Power Rankings" show (PLUG: Tuesdays at 6 p.m. ET on NFL Network) -- and in this very space -- Keith Butler is doing a bang-up job with this Pittsburgh defense. Sunday night's game served as a textbook example as to why points allowed -- not yards allowed -- should be the top measuring stick for evaluating defensive units. Every time the Lions ventured deep into Steelers territory, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Joe Haden, somebody made a stop. Glad that game didn't go into overtime. I never know which sides are heads or tails on those special gold coins. See the infomercials at 3 a.m., though -- right after the ads hawking Elvis '68 Comeback Edition plates.

The Chiefs stay parked in the cleanup spot after a respectable -- if not overly impressive -- win. On a night when Alex Smith and the offense looked like they had eaten too much barbecue, the defense and special teams stepped forward -- particularly, Justin Houston and Harrison Butker, who has a great name. (First name.) Also notable: The moves from Terrance Mitchell to Kenneth Acker and Phillip Gaines to Steven Nelson. They paid off. Still feel for Mitchell, who has been picked on by some excellent quarterbacks this season: Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, Ben Roethlisberger and Derek Carr. So the struggling Trevor Siemian comes to town and Acker gets the assignment. That sucks.

All the freaking out over the Patriots' defense early in the season now feels like the noise you hear from those whiners at the Genius Bar in the Apple Store. Matt Patricia, who was criticized and second-guessed nonstop over the first month of the season, deserves great praise once again. With Tom Brady's offense moving the ball -- but slowing down in Chargers territory -- and Stephen Gostkowski struggling, it was Patricia's side of the ball that won out on Sunday. The Pats have given up fewer than 13 points per game over their last four. Think about that.

While the highlight shows underlined rookie Deshaun Watson's incredible performance, boring old Russell Wilson threw for 452 yards. And four touchdowns. Oh, and he added 30 more yards on the ground. His mobility, arm and -- most importantly -- his poise were on full display. The spectacular high-point catch by Paul Richardson to help set up Jimmy Graham's game-winning touchdown gets lost in an outrageously entertaining game featuring two scintillating QBs and a whole bunch of big plays. The only shootout I can remember off the top of my head that matched Sunday's battle in Seattle was a Dolphins- Jets game in 1986, when Dan Marino and Ken O'Brien combined for 900-plus passing yards and 10 touchdown strikes in a 51-45 OT win for Gang Green. Predicted Seattle's offense coming out of its slumber in last week's "Game Picks," but never saw this coming. Maybe Wilson and Co. should run hurry-up all the time.

Another win for the Vikings, who are quietly humming along in a division that is there for the taking. The secondary once again looked strong on Sunday. While it's fair to point out that Minnesota has played Mitch Trubisky, Brett Hundley, a slumping Joe Flacco and DeShone Kizer over the last four weeks, the Vikes didn't allow any of those guys to even hit 200 yards passing. In fact, they almost kept Matthew Stafford below the 200-yard barrier in the game that preceded this dominant four-pack. Key for this team will be the consistency of the run game sans Dalvin Cook.

Gritty win for the Saints, who are looking more like a Bill Parcells football team than the New Orleans outfits we've come to know. Sean Payton was an offensive assistant under Parcells in Dallas, and it appears he's taken a page out of his former boss' playbook when it comes to pounding the rock. The Saints ran the ball 30 times on Sunday, while attempting 28 passes. Granted, a few of those runs were Drew Brees scrambles, but you get the point. Now, part of using the ground game and playing top-level defense is not giving the ball away. Mark Ingram must protect the football. Two fourth-quarter fumbles almost cost his team the W. Otherwise, nice game.

Gonna put myself out there and say the Bills make the postseason. A few folks felt I put them too high after the Week 4 win in Atlanta. But with two wins in the last three games -- and a shiny 5-2 record overall -- Buffalo still strikes me as a top-10 team. This week, Sean McDermott's group of guys (who act like a bunch of high school sophomores when one of their teammates gets a big play, which is kind of awesome) will visit the Jets on a short week for "Thursday Night Football." What an important game. The Bills have crapped the bed against Gang Green before. Time to prove it again in a prove-it league, against what we think is a lesser team. By the way, Buffalo really missed Marcell Dareus, didn't they? #BillsMafia

Two teams have already topped their respective win totals from last season: the much-ballyhooed Rams and these here Jaguars. The differences in Jacksonville, year over year, are staggering. The Jags are scoring 6.2 more points per game, while allowing 9.3 less. Their turnover diff has gone from minus-16 to plus-8. And the sack differential is ginormous: minus-1 to plus-22. I mean, this is like "The Force Awakens" compared to "Rogue One" right here.

Deshaun. Watson. That's all anybody could talk about after the loss in Seattle. Understandable. Watson became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 400 yards, four touchdowns and add more than 50 yards rushing. Just incredible. As far as pregame, the talk was centered around Texans players mulling over a walkout. To deal with the mixed emotions those guys must have felt all weekend, that was a pretty impressive loss (if there is such a thing) for that locker room. They just came up a minute short.

All eyes are on Ezekiel Elliott right now. It appears his six-game suspension is back on, though there's still a chance another appeal could get him back on the field. With everything up in the air, we'll leave the Cowboys right where they were last week. At least for now. Elliott just carried the 'Boys to a road win in difficult elements Sunday with 150 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. While you never want to discount a division win, Dallas received much help from a sloppy Washington squad that seemed all too willing to give the Cowboys opportunities. A real encouraging sign for Dallas: the pass rush, which has picked up the pace in recent weeks. With so many young players in the secondary, the importance of Rod Marinelli's rushers can't be underestimated. I mean, they're not Haley, Tolbert, Casillas, Maryland, Jeffcoat, Hennings and Lett, but ...

The peaks-and-valleys campaign continues for the Panthers, who, one week after playing their worst game of the season in Chicago, controlled the Bucs for the lion's share of their NFC South tilt in Tampa. James Bradberry stonewalled Mike Evans when the receiver lined up on his side of the field. Carolina made the Bucs' offense look silly on third down, where Tampa went 2 for 12. The Panthers' offense wasn't much better. Cam Newton led the team in rushing and averaged fewer than 5 yards per throw on 32 attempts.

No drop for the Chargers, who proved they can play with anybody in the league via Sunday's effort at Gillette. They also proved that kickoff returns still matter -- and not in a good way. Special teams have really hurt Anthony Lynn's outfit this season, from poor blocking on a game-tying field goal attempt in Week 1 to a missed game-winning FG attempt in Week 2 to Travis Benjamin's decision to play football in reverse on Sunday. Benjamin did make up for his gaffe with a clutch touchdown late, and the Chargers were in it until the final drive. No late game stress attacks this week! (They're on bye.)

The Falcons gutted out the road win in New Jersey, which tells you that the Jets are better than people think or Atlanta is mediocre. One player who flat refuses to be mediocre is Grady Jarrett. On a key third down in the fourth quarter, Jarrett ran from across the formation -- after pass rushing -- to tackle Bilal Powell on the opposite sideline short of the first down. That Falcons stop forced a Chandler Catanzaro field goal to keep Atlanta in the lead. Great team runs are started by little things. Tevin Coleman hasn't been talked about much this season, but the explosive back made a few big plays in the run game and the pass game.

Tough to win when you sign a guy off the street who might've been selling swords at Medieval Times ... and then he's starting on your offensive line -- in a swamp pit, no less. The Redskins' offense looked bogged-down for much of the second half. Washington did everything to give the Cowboys this game (SEE: the fumbled kick return by the usually reliable Chris Thompson, a huge drop by Josh Doctson, and Zach Brown giving Dallas penalty yards when time and field position were absolutely precious). The schedule gets easier eventually. And by eventually, I mean not now. (Next three weeks: at Seattle, vs. Minnesota, at New Orleans.) But eventually, I swear!

No downward spiral for the Bears, who lost the game in New Orleans as much as the Saints won it. While Chicago was outgained, John Fox's bunch had a touchdown called back and had a very makeable missed field goal. The Bears could've won the opener versus the Falcons, and suffered a few costly -- and ticky-tack -- calls in the Week 5 loss to the Vikings. Chicago could easily be 5-3, if not 6-2.

Quick aside: No one seems to be noticing the productive year Jordan Howard is having. Yes, he logged another drop on a sure touchdown pass (pass catching = Howard's kryptonite), but he also went over the century mark again with 102 yards on 23 totes. He ranks No. 4 in the league in rushing yards now. Worth mentioning -- especially since nobody seemed to notice when he finished second last season.

You can't make heads or tails of these Lions. Through four games, they were as consistent as any team in pro football. (CFL, too.) Since then, they've dropped three straight games due to various factors. Sunday night's culprit: red zone offense. Against the Saints in Week 6, it was a bit of everything. In Week 5, the defense couldn't get off the field versus Carolina's offense. (Yes, I meant to italicize because Carolina's offense is gross right now.) There is one thing Detroit must do: run. Matt Stafford can rack up passing yards (423 vs. Pittsburgh), but the ground game makes it easier to score down close. It helps the defense. It produces wins. It takes care of dried skin. It's fun.

The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Titans, who, despite winning two games in a row, looked off. Especially on the offensive side of the ball, where the ground game -- the backbone of the entire team -- couldn't run a lick in Cleveland. Rest is scientifically proven to help ailing hamstrings. Marcus Mariota is not the same player without full mobility, although he performed well from the pocket in the second half versus the Colts. We'll find out much about this Tennessee team in the coming weeks.

Will the real Ravens please stand up? Are they the group that blew out the Dolphins 40-zip last Thursday night or the sad-sack bunch that was trounced by the Jaguars in London, 44-7? The answer lies somewhere in between, but none of that will matter if Joe Flacco misses time. The hit Flacco took on his ill-fated slide versus the Dolphins was deemed way unnecessary by the social media peanut gallery and most everyone else, which unfortunately doesn't change anything for Baltimore's franchise quarterback. John Harbaugh's group has an important matchup with the Titans on Sunday. At least Flacco has nine days between games. Or, Ryan Mallett has nine days to get ready. Gulp.

No team looked as different from September to October. All the (negative) attention centers around Trevor Siemian, who looks nothing like the quarterback he was the first two games of the season. His three interceptions hurt on Monday night. But he didn't lose a fumble (like two of his teammates). Nor is he playing right tackle. Nor did he drop a sure touchdown pass. The defense is the only part of Vance Joseph's outfit that is playing above board. I'm all for do-it-yourselfers, but Von Miller and friends can't do it by themselves. That group looked outstanding most of the night, minus a few offside penalties. Not as outstanding: watching Jamaal Charles fumble early, giving the Chiefs the first points of the game on a scoop-and-score. Not after the fantastic career he built in Kansas City. Classy, great player.

The joy lasted nine days. The doldrums resumed in Sunday's 34-14 loss at Buffalo. The Raiders' offense awoke from its slumber for one week before returning to the malaise that had plagued this attack for the previous month. Sans Marshawn Lynch, the ground attack was hardly that, totaling 54 yards -- but making up for it with two fumbles from the running backs. Derek Carr threw for more than 300 yards ... but also logged a pair o' picks. The larger concern is still Amari Cooper, who caught five relatively harmless passes for 48 yards. The broadcast even mentioned how rookie Tre'Davious White was outplaying Cooper. No bueno.

How will coach Mike McCarthy alter the offense to suit what quarterback Brett Hundley can do well? Running the ball two downs and throwing to guys on slow-developing patterns won't keep the Pack in the hunt until (if) Aaron Rodgers comes back from his broken collarbone. Taking advantage of Hundley's mobility makes the most sense, as long as the rest of the offense (namely, McCarthy) can adjust. Don't misunderstand me: As a passer, Hundley is probably better from inside the pocket, where he can step up to avoid rushers without having to throw on the run. That said, utilizing some designed runs that the Pack would have never used with Rodgers could be effective.

Wasn't pretty, but the Bengals got back to respectability Sunday. Sort of. Beating the Andrew Luck-less Colts by one point at home doesn't, well, elicit confidence. For the time being, however, Cincy is as much in the playoff race as any team. As sad as it might sound, the 3-4 Bengals only have two more losses than the best teams in the AFC. The division record is 1-2, but it's the impending conference schedule that will determine their season: at Jaguars in Week 9, at Titans in Week 10 and at Broncos in Week 11. Ew.

The Jets continue to surprise folks, even if it hasn't translated into wins the last couple of weeks. That team New York was staying with on Sunday? The reigning NFC champion Falcons. Coming in, the Jets ranked 21st in the league in offense and 25th in defense. So they're hard to figure out. Quarterback Josh McCown was steady again in the loss, going 26 of 33 for 257 yards with two touchdown passes and no turnovers. Jeremy Kerley's muffed catch on a Falcons punt in the rain loomed large, though, abruptly ending a Jets drive before it started while allowing Atlanta to move its lead from two to five points. If a bounce or a call here or there had gone differently in this one and in the Week 7 loss to the Dolphins, New York might be 5-3 right now. Doesn't register, does it?

Drew Stanton is the man, for now. Will Stanton play the no-holds-barred, throw-it-deep-twice-per-half style that Bruce Arians likes? He should. Make the opposing defense play the whole field, even if it results in an incomplete pass. That will give Adrian Peterson a little room in which to operate and speed the game up. Stanton will start against the 49ers at the Big Blue Jean this week, which was the site of his last start (and win). In fact, the dude has won his last three starts. Arians doesn't give two squirrels' farts what you think of his quarterback. He's won with Stanton.

The "Thursday Night Football" matchup between Miami and Baltimore was, in a word, fugly. Could it have gone any worse for Matt Moore and the Dolphins? Moore posted a passer rating of 47.2, his third-worst as a starter in the NFL. Listening to Tony Boselli do color for the game on radio, you would think Miami owned the worst offensive line in the league. They weren't a bunch of Larry Littles and Richmond Webbs out there, that's for sure. I love NFL Game Pass for the iPad. I wouldn't recommend using it to rewatch Dolphins- Ravens.

This Bucs team is bad. There is no way to dress it up. You can't shine ... never mind. Most disappointing in the loss to the Panthers was the offense. While the defense has let this team down time and again in 2017, where is the offensive explosion we were anticipating from the Jameis Winston/Mike Evans/ DeSean Jackson trio? This was a WR tandem expected to put up 20-25 touchdowns this year. Through seven games, Evans and Jackson have six touchdown catches combined. Maybe not alarming, but no one else is picking up the production. Winston's play has been solid at times this season, but generally uneven throughout. He threw two picks while Tampa put up all of three points for the home crowd.

Another home game coming out of the Week 8 bye -- with another good NFC West team coming to town, after the Week 7 loss to Seattle. Maybe the Giants will display a (massively) better offense this time around, although it might not be any easier against the Rams. After a rough start to the season, Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has his boys playing much better ball. L.A. has been shutting teams down ever since the second half of the Week 4 game in Dallas. For the Giants to win, Eli Manning must take advantage of a Rams secondary that has given up more than a few big plays. Big Blue's defense has been harangued for its drop-off from last season, but fielding a stout D gets a bit harder when your offense is just mixing and matching punts and turnovers.

Tough loss for the Colts on Sunday. Though Indy fell short on the final series, it was nice to see several of Jacoby Brissett's teammates run to his side after he was crushed in a collapsing pocket. Nice rebound for Colts tight end Jack Doyle, who had by far his biggest day this season, with 12 catches, 121 yards and a score -- after averaging 42.8 yards per game coming in. Also noticeable: an effective Frank Gore, who averaged over 5 yards per carry and put up more than 100 scrimmage yards. But at 2-6, should the Colts maybe officially shut down Andrew Luck for the year? Trade T.Y. Hilton away? If the Colts do the latter, then the answer to the former question is "yes."

The trade for Jimmy Garoppolo is sure to get everyone fired up. Also means we can put the Kirk Cousins relocation storyline to bed (... until Cousins to Miami kicks into high gear in the spring). Meanwhile, the pre-Jimmy G Niners were outmatched Sunday in Philly. These kinds of losses -- when nothing seems to go right -- will only serve rookie C.J. Beathard well, irrespective of how much longer he starts for this team. Despite not having a strong overall game, Beathard continues to use his legs effectively, posting six carries for 40 yards Sunday. Some of it came when he was running for his life. So, Jimmy G ... or a G5?

Can't buy a win -- or, going by what happened Sunday, a decent second-half performance, either. DeShone Kizer went the whole way at quarterback, which was refreshing. The bigger issue: He averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. The run game, however, was effective -- when the game situation allowed for it. This was especially true early on, with Isaiah Crowell getting the good guys on the board first. Unfortunately, the fumbles -- including Crowell's -- stung. Cleveland isn't at the point where it can lose the turnover battle and win games. Next up: the bye. Can't lose that one.

*Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL. And be sure to tune in to the "NFL Power Rankings" show on NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET. *

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