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Power Rankings, Week 8: Chiefs claim top spot; Panthers rise

A strange NFL weekend came to a close Monday night with Josh Freeman throwing it all over the park. Literally. The ball hit almost every square inch of MetLife Stadium.

If the Vikings' decision to start Freeman against the Giants was odd, the ending of Patriots-Jets was even stranger. Ditto seeing Peyton Manning playing for the visiting team at Lucas Oil on Sunday night.

The tenor in Kansas City? Sad. Not for the home team, which pushed its way up the Power Rankings ladder with a hard-fought win, but for the visiting Texans, whose defensive coordinator coached a whale of a game despite losing his father Friday. Wade Phillips learned football from Bum Phillips, who taught us all that you can win and have fun -- and have real team unity -- as head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.

Sure, David. But as you'll see below, we had to do what we had to do. In the interest of full disclosure, we still feel Denver is the best team in football. But because the Broncos trail the Chiefs in the AFC West, we can't place them at No. 1. Part of the process of ranking the teams includes how they're faring in their own divisions. For example, we might have placed Denver at No. 1 if Kansas City were in a different division. But in this unique situation, standings play a role.

Funny -- we were worried about ranking the top teams in the NFC West, not the AFC West. That's the NFL in 2013.

As for the other 30 clubs, see below. As always, feel free to share your thoughts ... @HarrisonNFL is the drop box.

Now, let the dissension commence ...

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

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Watching the final moments of the Chiefs' win over the Texans, it was hard not to appreciate the way Tamba Hali -- ranked by Pro Football Focus as the third-best outside linebacker in the league, one spot behind teammate Justin Houston, heading into Week 7 -- approaches the game. Hali's relentless pursuit of Case Keenum on the Texans' last-gasp play to force the fat-lady fumble was all effort. Hali had 2.5 sacks Sunday, giving him nine on the season -- as many as he had all of 2012.

The line between Denver and Kansas City is thisclose. The Chiefs, playing at Arrowhead, escaped by a single point against a Texans team led by a quarterback who'd never started a game in the NFL. (Yes, Kansas City could've bolstered the total at the very end, but the final score was far too close for comfort.) The Broncos, meanwhile, had been dominating opponents before running up against an emotionally charged club with something to prove.

On that note ... the Broncos walked into a unique environment Sunday night, facing a Colts squad more fired up to beat the opposing quarterback than any team since Joe Montana's Kansas City Chiefs took on Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers. *That* legendary pupil-meets-master affair took place at Arrowhead Stadium back in 1994, and it was hard not to think of that game while watching Broncos-Colts.

It was bye week in New Orleans. Yes, the Saints suffered a gut-wrenching Week 6 loss in New England, but they're still 5-1.

Now, to clear something up ... Last week in this space, we lamented Rafael Bush's failure to get over and help corner Jabari Greer on the winning touchdown catch by Kenbrell Thompkins. After re-watching and reviewing the pay with NFL.com Live colleague -- and former NFL defensive back -- Solomon Wilcots, we realized that most of the blame lies on Greer, who never should have let Thompkins get behind him. Fact is, while maybe Bush could've helped Greer, his primary responsibility was to force Tom Brady to make a tougher throw to the corner. If Brady had seen Bush bailing to help Greer, he would have thrown the seam route to the inside receiver, regardless of the coverage. Watch the play again here.

Seriously, when is the last time a team had two corners as good as Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner? Maybe two years ago, when the Jets had a healthy Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie -- though the latter actually played his best football after Revis was lost near the beginning of last season. And no other elite corner tandem has Browner and Sherman's size. One thing about Browner: Dude has to quit tackling himself.

Yes, the Colts got an emotional win over last week's top-ranked team, but let us not forget how out-of-sync they looked the game before in San Diego -- nor should we forget the loss of Reggie Wayne for the season. Next week, they'll head to a venue in which they were hammered last year: Houston's Reliant Stadium. Vontae Davis says he's fired up to play the Oilers.

Two big factors in the Niners' win at Tennessee: Anquan Boldin and Colin Kaepernick. Boldin made a couple of sick catches, one on the left sideline with a single hand, the other on a lunge down the right sideline. Kaepernick, meanwhile, ran for 68 yards and a score.

Has anyone else noticed that these read-option runs seem to be coming back? Robert Griffin III ran 11 times for 84 yards on Sunday, while Russell Wilson ran several such plays against the Cardinals last Thursday night. Still looks effective.

That was a big win -- a huge win -- in Detroit for Cincinnati. Many in this business expected the Bengals -- specifically Andy Dalton -- to lose on the road. The third-year veteran made some big plays downfield, though he once again missed some, too. By and large, he showed up after shouldering immense criticism lately, completing 24 of 34 passes for 372 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Way to go.

Rob Gronkowski gave everyone a glimpse of what the Patriots have been missing in his absence, catching eight balls for 114 yards in his first game of the season. You'd think the guy was Jimmy Graham or something. Of course, if you watched the Jets take New England apart play by play, you also saw exactly what the Patriots will continue to miss without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Losing those two is really going to hurt come January. #NoTomBradyMentionTodayyay

The Packers' 1929 championship throwback unis are sweet. Personally, the Power Rankings prefers the ensemble with the brown helmet, but per -- wait for it -- another NFL rule, clubs can no longer change their helmets, beyond swapping out the logo.

 Nice win, by the way, for the injury-riddled Pack. But let's go back to the past for a sec. That first 
 Packers title team shut out 
 *eight* of its 13 opponents in going 12-0-1 -- so technically, the 1972 
 Dolphins are not the only undefeated team in NFL history. What's more interesting is that the coach of that '29 team, Curly Lambeau, also suited up for one game during the championship season. It was the last game of his nine-year playing career. 

Everyone is still trying to figure out who these Lions are. What we can say is that if Detroit is to win the NFC North -- or grab a wild-card berth, for that matter -- it must win close games at home. Sure, the Cincinnati Bengals are a decent team, but the opportunities were there for the Lions on Sunday.

 In Week 8, the equally inconsistent -- and more banged-up -- 
 Dallas Cowboys come to town. That matchup will be extremely important, as it represents a chance to secure a conference win, and conference wins are an integral component of the tiebreaking process. 

Philip Rivers is the Comeback Player of the Year -- period. The dude completed 22 of 26 passes against the Jaguars on Sunday. He came into the game ranked second in the league in completion percentage at 72.6, behind only Peyton Manning. And it's not like he's connecting on a bunch of dinks and dunks and none-yard outs; Rivers is averaging well over 8 yards every time the ball leaves his hand.

Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli deserves a "position coach of the year" award for getting this ravaged Cowboys unit -- which is missing three expected starters -- to play like it's been playing. One guy on that line -- Nick Hayden -- didn't even play football last year. The Eagles, by the way, came into the game averaging 449.8 yards per contest, third in the entire league. They gained just 278 on Sunday, some of that in garbage time, and put up a paltry three points.

Congratulations to Devin Hester, who tied Deion Sanders for the most return touchdowns in league history. That's pretty special. The achievement also solidifies something else: Hester deserves to be considered one of the best Chicago Bears ever, regardless of position. Oh, and a heckuva job by Josh McCown, who certainly outplayed Jay Cutler on Sunday.

OK, so we're clearly trying to accentuate the positive here. Losing Cutler and Lance Briggs for an extended period of time will really hurt.

Don't want to overstate anything or go too hot dogs and apple pie here, but take a gander at Cam Newton's combined numbers over the past two weeks: 35 of 43 pass attempts completed, 10.4 yards per attempt, five total touchdowns, no picks and a 140.9 passer rating. Peyton who? OK, maybe Newton isn't quite better than Peyton Manning, but I'll take him over Peyton Hillis, so take that.

Talk about playing Bill Parcells football in New York. The Jets ran the football 52 times and held the ball for more than 46 minutes. Good night. Great win -- and the second victory delivered by the Yellow Flag fairy. Personal fouls have keyed two Jets wins this season: against the Bucs and Patriots.

It's maddening to watch the Dolphins. Well, I guess that's the nature of the NFL, which can make one wonder if there are any good teams anymore. It's a valid question. Like it or not, what with all the parity and "anybody can beat anybody any day" stuff, the NFL has, simply put, become watered down.

The Dolphins -- we think -- had no business losing at home to a Bills squad whose starting quarterback was out and whose most explosive offensive player gained 7 total yards. After all, Nickell Robey -- who is not synonymous with Lester Hayes, Ed Reed, and Rod Woodson -- made the defensive play of the day for Buffalo. But here we are. And here the Dolphins sit.

Tough to figure this group out. Ravens fans deposit a lot of anger on Twitter, particularly toward @HarrisonNFL, particularly when we pick their team to lose. But really, how can you pick Baltimore to do anything, win or lose? One could argue the Ravens are the most inconsistent team in football. Even last season's incredible playoff run came after a stretch in which they'd lost four of five. Baltimore is 8-8 over the past 16 regular-season games, notching impressive wins ( in Miami two weeks ago) and brutal losses ( in Buffalo the week prior).

Surprising to see Jake Locker back so quickly after it was initially reported he would be out about two months. Shocking that an injury report on a player wouldn't be accurate.

Tennessee owner Bud Adams passed away Monday. We put some thoughts to paper here.

A wonderful effort by Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis' unit was ruined by quarterback play. This tweet from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Charean Williams pretty much sums up what transpired at the Linc on Sunday:

"Foles was bad. Barkley was worse."

Did anyone else notice a lack of Browns offensive highlights on the Fox, CBS and NBC recaps? That's because there weren't any. Cleveland gained 216 yards -- averaging a horrific 3.2 yards per play -- against a Packers defense that was missing its best player. People are beginning to wonder if Brandon Weeden is an NFL quarterback.

OK, who would have thought coming into the year that Buffalo could have beaten the Dolphins in Miami with Thad Lewis at quarterback and C.J. Spiller gaining 7 -- SEVEN! -- yards? The Bills make things painfully exciting every week, and though the networks never give them national exposure, they're becoming a can't-miss matchup.

A lot of ugliness in Carolina on Sunday, but let's not stray too far from the point. The Rams received a ton of credit for going 4-1-1 in the NFC West last season, but the reality is, they also went 3-7 outside of it. The defense is still inconsistent (although St. Louis played the run great Sunday), while the offense hasn't been scaring anyone -- opposing defenders haven't had to change their schemes much when playing the Rams, which has allowed them to get comfortable. And that was before Sam Bradford ended his season with a torn ACL. No one on that roster is a true offensive threat; Brian Quick's long touchdown aside, the explosive plays just haven't been there.

Much respect for Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips coaching his guys up so soon after his legendary father's passing -- O.A. "Bum" Phillips represented everything cool about football in Houston, and he will be missed. Let's give that Texans defense some credit for keeping Sunday's matchup close; Houston held the Chiefs to under 4 yards per carry, forced two turnovers and gave up just 17 points. That's a quality road effort.

Matt Ryan played one of the best games of his career Sunday. He had Harry Douglas, Darius Johnson and Drew Davis out wide, with Jacquizz Rodgers not exactly cutting the figure of Jim Brown -- or Gerald Riggs, for that matter -- in the backfield. And yet, though the Atlanta Falcons had guys at the skill positions who couldn't beat ITT Tech, Ryan torched the Bucs' defense, completing 20 of 26 pass attempts for three scores and a whopping 148.4 passer rating. Give the man his props.

Was going over the Raiders' analytics during their bye week. You might be surprised to learn that, despite Terrelle Pryor's apparent escapability, Oakland is tied for giving up the second-most sacks in the league (27). Another area that's hurting the team: the Raiders' pass defense inside the 30. The opposition's passer rating shoots up to 114.8 after crossing Oakland's 30-yard line, which makes it difficult to bend without breaking.

At some point, an 11th-year veteran has to avoid making the same mistakes. And at some point, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will have to consider making a change at quarterback. Yes, the Seahawks' secondary made for a tough matchup last Thursday, but Carson Palmer forced a couple of throws that destroyed Arizona's chances to win. It's that simple.

Last week, we mentioned in this space that, despite the rough Week 6 outing in Dallas, Robert Griffin III sure looked to have regained some pep in his step. Witness Sunday, when Boy Wonder ran 11 times for 84 yards in the Redskins' win over the Bears.

 ***Power Rankings side note:*** The 
 Redskins' leading receiver was 
 Jordan Reed, who had nine grabs for 134 yards and a touchdown. Reed is a rookie tight end out of Florida, where he majored in religion. His sign is 
 Cancer ... in case you're single. 

The Steelers aren't done yet. Ben Roethlisberger went 17-for-23 with a touchdown pass against the Ravens, completing three of four pass attempts on Pittsburgh's final drive to set up Shaun Suisham's game-wining kick from 42 yards out. Big Ben has been making end-of-game streetball plays for a decade now.

The Giants finally got a win and will still have a semblance of hope if they can beat the Eagles on Sunday. Still, they're three games behind Dallas in the NFC East, and 1-6 is probably too big a hole for even a Tom Coughlin-coached team to climb out of.

 Peyton Hillis had 23 touches Monday night. Surprised he didn't pull something ... or two somethings. 

Where do the Vikings go from here? If Josh Freeman is not the guy, then somebody in college must be. What else can the Vikings do? Go back to Christian Ponder? Haven't they decimated his confidence?

Agree with the postgame remarks made by Steve Young and Trent Dilfer: Minnesota set Freeman up to fail by playing him this soon.

Tough to see one of the few strengths of this 0-6 Buccaneers team -- the secondary -- let Tampa Bay down. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan picked apart the whole back seven at the Georgia Dome on Sunday. Once again, though, Vincent Jackson came out swinging with two touchdown receptions, including perhaps the catch of the season.

Speaking of the Bucs' few strengths, Tampa Bay is now down one more: Running back Doug Martin might miss the rest of 2013 with a torn labrum.

Every Jaguars loss has been decided by at least double digits, so there have been plenty of bad plays over the weeks. That said, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Sen'Derrick Marks that gave the Chargers an automatic first down in the first half of a still-close game says it all: It eliminated what would have been a third-and-33 for San Diego.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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