For the first two months of this rather unconventional NFL season, we've been frantically searching for a little reliability as the week to week results rolled in. But sometimes, patience is required and you just have to wait awhile for order to be restored to the universe. Eventually, the fog lifts, clarity returns and our perception improves.
As it turns out, there is an emerging elite class in the NFL this season after all. A quick check of our Week 9 power rankings reveals the following top four teams as November dawns: New England, Pittsburgh, the Giants, and Indianapolis. Pretty familiar territory for that foursome, wouldn't you say? The Patriots, Steelers, Giants and Colts have combined to win six of the past seven Super Bowls and comprise eight of the 14 Super Bowl appearance in that seven-year span. If there is an aristocracy in the NFL, those clubs would make the shortlist.
And with the defending champion Saints taking a step back toward the upper crust by virtue of their impressive conquest of Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the NFL's 2010 power structure suddenly isn't anywhere near as muddled as it first appeared. In this case, it just took half a season for the cream to rise.
Now on to this week's rankings...
Last Week: 4
|Patriots, with all their youth-related defensive issues and lack of big-name offensive weapons, are the only remaining one-loss team this season? It's another reminder of the edge that superior coaching supplies in the NFL. You can't overstate what Bill Belichick's work has meant thus far this year in New England. But as the Pats visit Cleveland this week, why aren't we hearing anything about Belichick's return to the city that once spurned him or about the latest chapter in his feud with Browns coach Eric Mangini?|
Last Week: 1
|Steelers lost a road game Sunday night in the raucous Superdome. Big deal. It happens. Especially when Drew Brees gets hot and decides he's going to complete 20 of 22 in the second half. Pittsburgh will bounce back on Monday night at Cincinnati, in its third of three consecutive away games. The Steelers have a score to settle with the Bengals after Marvin Lewis's guys beat them twice by a combined nine points last season, posting their first series sweep of Pittsburgh since 1998.|
Last Week: 3
|Giants have to take their four-game winning streak all the way to Seattle, where the Jekyll and Hyde-like Seahawks are 3-0 at home but have yet to inspire confidence. If you're wondering, New York hasn't won a regular season game out west since Week 12 of 2008, when it got out of Arizona with an eight-point victory.|
Last Week: 5
|Dallas Clark, but Jacob Tamme catches six passes for 64 yards and his first NFL touchdown. No Austin Collie, but Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez combine for 11 receptions for 133 yards. When Peyton Manning goes down, that's when it's time to worry in Colts-ville.|
Last Week: 7
|Ravens are rested and ready for their close-up as their post-bye schedule commences, because they're playing three of their next six games in prime time, drawing a Thursday nighter in Atlanta in Week 10, a Sunday nighter against Pittsburgh in Week 13 and a Monday nighter at Houston in Week 14. I actually think the bright lights bring out the best in John Harbaugh's club, because Ray Lewis and friends tend to get quite geeked when they think everyone's watching their little pre-game convulsions.|
Last Week: 2
|Jets' intensity level was noticeably lacking in last Sunday's 9-0 loss to Green Bay, and whatever motivation had propelled New York through its earlier five-game winning streak must now be regenerated. The Jets answered the challenge the last time their invincibility was challenged -- after that 10-9 Week 1 loss at home to Baltimore. Let's see if this week's trip to improved Detroit serves the same purpose for Rex Ryan and Co.|
Last Week: 8
|Falcons this year focused on beating the Saints, believing that was the key to winning the NFC South and returning to the playoffs for the second time in Mike Smith's three-year coaching tenure. And it still might be. But while Atlanta won at New Orleans in overtime in Week 3, it still can't shake free of the surprising Bucs, who are 5-2 and in a flat-footed tie with the Falcons for the division lead. Tampa Bay visits this week, and Atlanta gets its shot to inflict a dose of reality into the Bucs' Cinderella story.|
Last Week: 11
|Saints on Sunday night against Pittsburgh was the return of a Gregg Williams-coached defense with an eye for the well-timed take-away. When that key Heath Miller fourth-quarter fumble just happened to wind up in the hands of Saints safety Darren Sharper, I thought for a minute it was 2009 all over again in New Orleans.|
Last Week: 12
|Chiefs are a sparkling 4-0 at home, but they get back into their division schedule with this week's showdown in Oakland (Did I just write showdown and Oakland in the same sentence?). This is the start of K.C.'s most challenging stretch of games, with four of its next six within the division and five of seven overall on the road, where the Chiefs are just 1-2 and haven't won since Week 2 in Cleveland. I'm expecting the Haley-men to survive it all with playoff contention intact.|
Last Week: 6
|Kenny Britt and Vince Young all on the same day made the trip to San Diego something less than the momentum-builder the Titans were looking for heading into their Week 9 bye. But Tennessee can't really complain about a 5-3 first half that leaves it just a half-game behind first-place Indy in the AFC South. The Titans just played four of their past six games on the road and went 3-1 away from home. That's a playoff-level performance.|