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NFL Power Rankings, Week 9: Lions, Buccaneers fly into top half

Another week of insane finishes (the Ballard corkscrew, Dez's digits, old man Titus), rankings in flux and Monday Night defense ...

... the latter suffocated the Arizona Cardinals, who are the jumping-off point in the discussion of mediocre teams, and where they fall in this week's Power Rankings. The clubs that fell in the 13 to 26 range last week are all over the place. Amazingly, nearly all those clubs LOST. Thus, the beneficiaries are the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who both played a little leapfrog in this space.

A team on the decline is the woeful San Diego Chargers. After a sloppy loss to the Cleveland Browns in which San Diego just couldn't produce any offense, Bolts fans had no problem producing an opinion and striking my Twitter handle with it:

Not sure we've ever had fans lobbying for their team to be last. If Yoda were speaking to A.J. Smith, I think he'd say: "Popular, you aren't."

Without further ado, let the dissension commence!

(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)

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

Now that is how a team plays when it's Best in Show. Even the most faithful Falcons fans had to process a concern (or two) while watching their team let clubs like the Panthers, Redskins and Raiders hang around. Atlanta dominated the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at the Linc, with the most telling statistic being ... well, take your pick: Matt Ryan's 137.4 passer rating, the 32:55 time of possession, converting over half its third downs, rushing for 146 yards or holding LeSean McCoy to 45 yards rushing. Of course, Andy Reid helped in that last category, but the Falcons didn't need bad coaching assistance.

The Houston Texans were off in Week 8. Now it's time to make a push for home-field advantage in the AFC. Here's what's on the docket down the stretch: vs. Bills, at Bears, vs. Jaguars, at Lions, at Titans, at Patriots, vs. Colts, vs. Vikings, at Colts. I see the Texans potentially losing two of three in that three-game road stretch, and possibly dropping the in Chicago, too. That means 12-4 for Gary Kubiak's club. That should be good enough to get 'er done.

The Chicago Bears eked by in Week 8, at least on the surface. But it's not abnormal for this team to prevail with a big play on defense and a clutch kick from Robbie Gould. Sometimes, that's just the winning formula in Chicago. It was an "upset" that the Carolina Panthers put up 22 points on the Bears' defense. When it's a surprise that an NFL offense scores 22 points on you, that's saying something.

Got some tweets last week about the New York Giants being better than the Bears. When Chicago struggled to beat the Panthers, I got more. After blowing a 23-0 lead and escaping with a margin of victory equivalent to the length of Dez Bryant's fingers, should you still brag about your team? New York is good, but the secondary still has its troubles. Jason Witten is still open.

Alex Smith's night (18-for-19, 232 yards passing and three touchdowns) was the best performance of his career. Perhaps lost in Smith's amazing night, and definitely lost among all the studs on defense, was the play of second-year cornerback Chris Culliver. Is it just me, Niner fans, or is this guy pretty darn good? Hit me up @Harrison_NFL if I'm overrating Culliver, but he's more effective than Carlos Rogers, right?

Some people might not be that impressed with the Green Bay Packers' 24-15 win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, but considering all the injuries Mike McCarthy's team has dealt with, a win is a win is a win.

Fresh of their bye week, the Baltimore Ravens still have a one-game lead in the AFC North, with the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders on tap before the first meeting with the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11. That Sunday nighter is at Heinz, where the Ravens won the last two seasons.

New England did whatever it wanted in England. Tom Brady threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns, Stevan Ridley rushed for 127 yards and another touchdown, and Rob Gronkowski put up a 146-spot and two scores. The Patriots went 8-for-13 on third and fourth downs and made the NFL's annual International Series game a laugher. Now, if only they had worn the Pat Patriot jerseys in London ...

The Denver Broncos creep into the top 10 by virtue of their defensive showing Sunday night, which was especially strong considering they faced Drew Brees with Tracy Porter on the sideline. Is it just me, or does Demaryius Thomas look like a man among boys out there?

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their most impressive performance of the season Sunday at Heinz Field, one that put them on the Ravens' heels at 4-3. The biggest key to the game was the performance of the defense, which held the Washington Redskins to 255 total yards. Robert Griffin III looked out of sorts for much of the game. The Steelers' offense did its part, too, with 25 first downs. More and more, I'm beginning to think the Steelers can beat anyone in the AFC.

Valiant effort in Detroit, though the Seattle Seahawks' incredibly strong secondary didn't play up to its 2012 standards, allowing Matt Stafford to play his most effective game of the season (352 yards passing, four total touchdowns). Winning at Ford Field would've been a huge deal, considering Minnesota, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas, St. Louis and Arizona all fell. Instead, the Seahawks are right in the thick of the NFC wild-card morass at midseason.

The Minnesota Vikings' offense pretty much did everything it could to give the game to the Bucs on Thursday night. Ignore the total yardage; Minnesota's offense sucked. First, Jerome Simpson fumbled, and then Adrian Peterson. Then the play calling was horrific (like running the ball on second-and-20 facing a multi-score deficit). At least the Vikings' secondary made up for it by sleepwalking through most of the game, especially in run support.

The New York Jets came out all fired up, with Antonio Cromartie prancing around like Apollo in "Rocky IV" (before Ivan Drago broke him), but then the Miami Dolphins dominated from whistle to gun. The importance of special teams can't ever be emphasized enough; just look at Dolphins- Jets II. A blocked punt created the Fins' first touchdown, while Olivier Vernon's blocked field goal in a 20-0 game was completely demoralizing to a Jets teams desperate to get on the board before half. Vernon, incidentally, scored on the blocked punt. In case you were wondering, Miami got the linebacker from the third round of April's draft out of the University of Miami.

Detroit and Tampa Bay make huge jumps because the Eagles, Cardinals, Cowboys, Rams, Jets, Redskins, Chargers and Titans all lost. Without being overly dramatic, the Lions salvaged their season with a Matt Stafford-engineered, do-or-die drive in the fourth quarter that knocked a fellow wild-card contender down a notch. A semi beacon of light: the almost existence of a running game. The Lions rushed 22 times for 84 yards. They are still the only outfit in the league without a single 20-yard run, though. It sure would be nice to provide Stafford some ground support.

The Dallas Cowboys stay put by virtue of losing by a fingertip ( literally) and having beaten 16th-ranked Tampa Bay in the head-to-head meeting. In other news, Dez Bryant's brief NFL career seems tragically flawed, no? He had another fumble on a punt return, dropped another pass and looked for more flags. He almost made up for it by posting a 100-yard game and making the most unbelievable circus catch in Cowboys history. The young man was one third of a digit from dumping his flaws in the trash, at least for the immediate future. So close, and yet so far.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers almost moved to No. 14 in these Power Rankings, but a 12-spot jump would've been a bit too much and they lost to No. 15 Dallas in Week 3. On another note, the closest comparison I can make to Doug Martin is: Tiki Barber, with a dash of Ray Rice. The diminutive back made mincemeat of pretty much all 11 Vikings defensive starters last Thursday night. If Josh Freeman and Mike Williams can replicate some of the plays they made together against Minnesota, this will be one very difficult offense to stop going forward.

The Indianapolis Colts get a nice bump, but lag behind some 3-4 teams because they've barely gotten by in wins, while getting blown out in Chicago and New Jersey ( by the struggling Jets, no less). Still, the effort by Vick Ballard to get in the end zone while upside down in midair was nothing short of awesome. Andrew Luck has struggled on the road, and Week 8 was no different. The first overall pick has tossed only two touchdowns to six interceptions, while compiling a 63.3 rating away from home.

It was a bye week in Cincinnati; time to reassess what's worked and what hasn't in the Bengals' 3-4 start. This team has lost three straight and can't afford any more division losses -- not with a 1-3 record in the AFC North. Next up: the red-hot Denver Broncos.

John Skelton went home and played some video games to de-stress late Monday night. He got sacked eight times playing Madden.

Clearly, the poor start was all Juan Castillo's fault.

Hey, the St. Louis Rams were ballin' ... with 12:25 left in the first quarter. So Rams fans have that to hang their hat on. Danny Amendola comes back soon, so that's good. What else? Uhh ... alrighty then.

After losing several close games, the Washington Redskins were manhandled in Pittsburgh. At 3-5, playoff hopes are starting to dwindle, though it ain't over yet. Robert Griffin III was bound to come back to Earth, and it appears Week 8 was the time. It should be noted that this guy is a rookie, not the league MVP. Expectations should be tempered. For the season, RG3 is seventh in the NFL in passing (97.3 passer rating) and 17th in rushing (476 yards). I would say that's pretty special.

Well, you saw the tweet atop this column. It looked like the San Diego Chargers might finally close out a game on the final drive, but that didn't happen. The defense came to play (with the help of sloppy conditions), but the offense did not. Philip Rivers appears to a) feel the rush a bit too much, b) aim his passes, and c) not have the same arm strength he had three seasons ago.

What a tough loss to stomach for Tennessee Titans fans. Some questionable calls definitely put the Colts in position to win in Nashville. That doesn't excuse the fact that the Indianapolis running backs gained 172 yards from scrimmage and averaged over five yards per carry. Tennessee's front line was hammered several times in the A and B gaps. Expect the Bears to try and exploit that next week with Matt Forte and Michael Bush. Tennessee was on a roll. Mike Munchak and staff must regroup and not allow this "L" to affect the locker room going forward.

We gave Mark Sanchez some credit in last week's rankings. When a guy as heavily criticized as Sanchez plays well, it's nice to acknowledge it. At the end of the day, though, much of the negative critiquing is earned. He just leaves too many plays on the field. Does it help when Stephen Hill drops the ball? Certainly not.

The Oakland Raiders are trying desperately to get out of cellar territory, and a solid road win at Arrowhead helps them achieve that. Sure, the rival Kansas City Chiefs have struggled this season, but don't take anything away from Dennis Allen's group, which won on offense, defense and special teams. Not seen in all the highlights was a strong game from Darren McFadden, who rushed 29 times for 114 yards and also caught four balls. The Raiders need Run DMC to get going if they're to make a move in the AFC West race.

Week 8 was a terrible time for the Buffalo Bills to have their bye. No team wants to go into an off week after a one-point loss at home. Ryan Fitzpatrick had all week to dwell on his late interception that set up the Titans' winning score. He won't get any breaks this week, either, as the Bills face the Texans at Reliant. Good luck.

Should've seen this win coming. I thought about it hard, but have trouble prognosticating success for the Cleveland Browns. Part of the reason is all the injuries they've had on defense, as well as Trent Richardson playing hurt. Speaking of which, the first-round draft pick produced in Sunday's win, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown. If he's healthy, Cleveland will be no one's walkover.

Did anyone see Cam Newton's press conference after the loss in Chicago? I didn't. I don't need any more depression in my life. Newton's pick-six to Tim Jennings was a game changer. Late in game, with a five-point lead, on the road, deep in your own territory -- pick-six's don't get much worse. To Cam's credit, he led the offense on a 13-play, 53-yard drive to set up a go-ahead field goal with just over two minutes to play. All for naught.

The New Orleans Saints shockingly punted the football eight times Sunday night. That was the most punts for this franchise since Week 17 of the 2009 season. Mark Brunell started that game -- not Drew Brees -- because the Saints had already clinched home-field advantage (and, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl later that season). Only once have the Brees-led Saints punted eight times, and for that you have to go all the way back to 2006 -- back to Brees' fifth start with the franchise.

For the second consecutive week, the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense competed on the road. Unfortunately, the offense wasn't able to do enough. Blaine Gabbert showed some positive signs, but with Maurice Jones-Drew on the shelf, Jacksonville just didn't have the balance it needed to win at Lambeau. The holes weren't there in the running game (20 team carries, 62 yards), though Gabbert somewhat made up for it with a 300-yard day. Next up: a home date with the Lions, who've had their own struggles on the road.

The Kansas City Chiefs look awful. Whether it's Brady Quinn, Matt Cassel, turnovers, apple turnovers, the inability to get Dwayne Bowe involved enough ... They just suck right now. Jamaal Charles, who might be the team's best player, ran five times for four yards against the Raiders. What the #%^* is going on in Kansas City?

Elliot Harrison is an analyst on NFL Network's NFL Fantasy Live show, weekdays at 1 p.m. ET and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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