By Don Banks
November 18, 2009
NFL Power Rankings (cont.)
11 Houston Texans
Last Week: 13
Weird, weird league this year. We've written plenty about the gaping disparity between the top and bottom rungs of the NFL in 2009, but how about that vast and yawning morass of mediocrity in the middle? Twelve of the NFL's 32 teams (37.5 percent) stand either 5-4 or 4-5 after 10 weeks, not really fully alive in the playoff hunt, but not really dead either. At the moment I have the Texans being the best of that bunch, maybe only because they look better for not having played last week. Strangely enough, I feel the same way about the 5-4 Giants in the NFC. Somehow they enhanced their record during their bye.
12 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 9
The good news is the Eagles won't travel further west than Chicago and Dallas the rest of the regular season. The past three times Philly played in the Pacific time zone, depressing things have happened. There was last January's NFC title game loss at Arizona, the Week 6 debacle in Oakland, and Sunday's defeat at San Diego. These Birds apparently are not made for flying long distances.
13 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 14
As soon as I saw embattled Ravens kicker Steve Hauschka miss that 36-yard field goal attempt Monday night in Cleveland, I knew it was curtains for the kid. I think he knew it to, even before he had a point-after blocked later in the game. I felt bad for Hauschka, but Baltimore had given him plenty of chances. There was no way the Ravens could afford to let him miss another big kick this week with the Colts and kicker Matt Stover coming to town. The juxtaposition of Stover and Hauschka, well, you understand.
14 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 13
Matt Ryan has had his struggles with interceptions this season, and who knows why they came this year as opposed to last year, when he set the world on fire as a rookie. But the Falcons now must rely on him even more with running back Michael Turner dealing with an ankle injury. This week's game at the Giants is critical, because Atlanta and New York are tied in the NFC wild-card chase at 5-4, and a playoff-berth tiebreaker could be on the line. It's time to find out what the 2009 Falcons are really going to be.
15 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 18
For the first time all season, the attacking, pressuring 3-4 defense that new defensive coordinator Dom Capers installed this season created the intended havoc for an offense. Dallas looked out of sync all day at Green Bay, and nobody made a bigger impact for the Packers than veteran cornerback Charles Woodson, who had a sack, forced two fumbles and picked off a Tony Romo pass. I still believe the Packers are a playoff team this season, so I bumped them up three slots into the top 15 and will now wait to see the supreme motivation they draw from that honor.
16 New York Giants
Last Week: 15
There are some indications this week that the Giants are preparing rookie receiver Ramses Barden for a larger role in their red zone package in the season's final seven games. I was just starting to wonder if the 6-foot-6, third-round pick out of Cal Poly was going to show up this season. He's only been active for two games, largely because his special teams play has been inconsistent. All I know is Eli Manning looks like he could use a tall target near the end zone these days. Might as well make some use of those throws that have tended to sail on him.
17 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 19
The Jaguars are rapidly turning into one of the nicer stories in the NFL this season. Just when Jacksonville desperately needed to give its fan base something to get excited about, here comes a team that has finally fought its way over .500 and into legitimate AFC wild-card contention. And again, 10 wins do not appear to be out of the question. Only games against the Colts and Patriots look like sure-fire losses.
18 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 22
The Panthers are one of those losing teams nobody really wants to play. That's because their record doesn't really indicate what you're getting in the way of an opponent. Carolina is 4-2 after its 0-3 start, and has gotten back to a few basic tenets of its winning ways in recent years: A commitment to a grinding, two-headed running game, limiting the turnovers from Jake Delhomme, and finding ways to get Steve Smith the ball near the end zone.
19 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 23
I wanted to rank the Titans No. 11 in honor of Bud "Double Bird" Adams, but I think cracking the second 10 is plenty good enough for a team that resided in dead last four weeks ago. I realize I have Tennessee ahead of four-win teams like Miami, San Francisco, the Jets and Chicago, but which one of those juggernauts do you think they wouldn't beat? With Chris Johnson, Vince Young and a healthier defense, the Titans are a dangerous team once again.
20 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 16
What gives with dropping the Fish four spots after a win? Harsh, I'll admit. But Miami really had to fight like heck just to beat the one-win Bucs at home, and I really think they lose right now against Green Bay, Jacksonville, Carolina and Tennessee, the four teams that jumped them in this week's rankings. But I will admit my admiration for veteran Dolphins running back Ricky Williams grows by the week. The way the middle of their careers unfolded, did anybody out there foresee Ricky outlasting fellow 1999 first-round running back Edgerrin James? Not I.
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