Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Power Rankings: Top 10 Teams Heading in to Week 9

I have yet to post power rankings, so I thought the day after the completion of Week 8 would be a great time to start.

The No. 1 team is a no-brainer, but the rest of the top 10 is a little foggy as of the first of November..

Just missed: Bengals 5-2, Chicago Bears 4-3, New York Jets 4-3

10. New York Giants 5-2

Eli Manning and the Giants have been relatively quiet in the NFC East, though they currently hold a two-game lead over Philadelphia and Washington. The G-Men failed to make headlines over the off-season, as Philly received much of the media attention with the free agency frenzy, and all. But I think this may have worked to their advantage.

Head coach Tom Coughlin and his crew have quietly produced a 5-2 record with key wins over Philly and Buffalo. The strength of schedule isn't exactly the strongest, and they have fallen to Washington (28-14) and Seattle (36-25), but you can't blame the Giants for having a couple of weaker opponents. Manning has put up solid numbers (64.7%, 2,127 yards, 13 TD, 5 INT, 102.1 QB Rating), and done enough to just barely crack the Top 10 after eight weeks.

9. Houston Texans 5-3

To me, I think this season has really shown me that Houston has some fight in them. Despite some health issues–Andre Johnson has missed four games, Mario Williams is out for the season and Arian Foster has yet to fully recovery from a lagging hamstring injury–the Texans remain in games.

At 5-3, they are in the drivers seat down South. The Peyton Manning injury may have benefited them most, and Matt Schaub has been doing all he can with what is given to him. Two losses by a touchdown or less (New Orleans and Oakland), a 15-point loss to the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens and two blowout victories (34-7 vs. Indy, 41-7 vs. TEN) puts up quite an impressive resume. Clearly, when they do lose it's not by much, and they also have the ability to put points up on the board. Once Johnson returns to the lineup they will be a scary offense once again.

8. New Orleans Saints 5-3

New Orleans was shocked this past weekend. Not only were the Saints, but the entire Nation seemed to be rattled by the New Orleans loss. To the winless Rams? Really, Drew Brees? New Orleans marched in to St. Louis expecting a blowout, but the Rams made sure they didn't leave until they were embarrassed in all aspects of the game (except passing, of course).

Brees threw two critical interceptions, one returned 27 yards for a touchdown, and Rams' RB Steven Jackson ran over NO's defense for 159 yards and two TDs in the 10-point victory. Brees' off-day dropped the Saints to 5-3 on the year, and instead of extending a division lead over Tampa (4-3) and Atlanta (4-3), they are now struggling to stay a top the standings.
7. New England Patriots 5-2

Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, and will find a way to put points on the board. But after Sunday the Pats have taken a couple of steps back. Obviously Pittsburgh is a tough opponent, especially at Heinz Field, but this was supposed to be the game that proved the Patriots were still the team to beat in the AFC. The loss shows me that we may finally be seeing a changing of the guards in the East.

Buffalo beat them earlier in the season after executing an improbable comeback to take the victory by three points, and I think people may be starting to get more excited to see the underdog Fitzpatrick throw a strike to Steve Johnson than Brady to Wes Welker. They are at No. 7 this week simply because I think Buffalo has stolen the spotlight in the East this season, and currently sit at No. 1 in the division.

6. Buffalo Bills 5-2

Buffalo is one of several surprisers this season. Fresh off locking up Ryan Fitzpatrick for an additional six years, the Bills took care of the up-and-down Redskins with a 23-0 shutout this past weekend. The victory put them at 5-2 and atop the AFC East due to the head-to-head tiebreaker with New England.

Buffalo is one of six teams in the league that has put up over 200 points on the year, scoring nine more than the Pats in seven games. Fred Jackson's 5.5 yards per carry has elevated Buffalo's game to the next level. He seems to be the first constant running back the Bills have had since losing Willis McGahee following the 2006 season.

5. Baltimore Ravens 5-2

Baltimore's defense is what has kept them in games. Joe Flacco has shown some weakness and Cam Cameron, in some games, has failed to properly use Ray Rice. Rice was handed the ball just eight times last week against Jacksonville in the team's 12-7 loss. The offense failed to produce a first down until midway through the third quarter.

If it wasn't for that porous performance, and their slow-starting first half Sunday against Arizona, Baltimore would be ahead of Pittsburgh right now. But, Pittsburgh owns the momentum heading in to its match-up with Baltimore this week despite the 35-7 Week 1 loss. We will truly find out who owns the AFC North after Sunday night.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers 6-2

Pittsburgh's offensive line finally stepped its game up against New England on Sunday, providing ample time for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to hit his targets in stride, picking apart NE's secondary en route to a 365-yard, 2 TD day.

The defense proved they had the secret ingredient to stopping Tom Brady in his tracks. Something just one other team has accomplished this season (Buffalo). They are still last in the league in forced turnovers, with three, which is still shocking to most, but they have still found ways to get the job done.

3. Detroit Lions 6-2

Jim Schwartz's Lions dropped two in a row to San Fran and the Atlanta Falcons, but after this past weekend's shellacking of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos (45-10), I think it's safe to say that Matthew Stafford is back to full health.

Detroit is undefeated on the road and has scored the second-most points in the league, behind only New Orleans, with 239. Yes, this means they have scored more than division counterpart Green Bay, although that stat is a little skewed considering Detroit has played on more game than Rodgers and the Pack this season. Either way, Detroit has certainly put a great amount of points up on the board this season and will continue to do so as long as Stafford has Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and Titus Young to dispose the ball to.

2. San Francisco 49ers 6-1

Say what you want about the "weak schedule" the Niners have dealt with so far–although I will admit victories over such teams as Seattle and Cleveland isn't exactly eye-popping–San Francisco has lifted eyebrows this season.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been impressive in his first season at the helm as his Patrick Willis-led defense has allowed just 107 points (leads all defenses) and lost just one game–a 27-24 defeat at the hands of the Cowboys in Week 2. Harbaugh's fiery passion, which came out after his 25-19 victory over the 6-2 Detroit Lions, has been the Niners' fuel this season.
1. Green Bay Packers 7-0

Like I said–no brainer. Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers has picked up right where he left off in February. His 20 TD passes lead the league, and he's thrown just three interceptions. Rodgers is also first in QB rating (125.7), yards per pass (9.9) and third in yards (2,372).

Green Bay's defense has only held its opposition to under 20 points twice (Chicago 17, St. Louis 3), but with the offense putting up as much points as they do–33 per game on average–the defense can let up as many points as they so desire. With Rodgers on the field, Green Bay is the most dangerous team in the league, by far.

Photo credit
Vilma: Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Rice: Larry French/Getty Images
Harbaugh/Davis: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

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