By Don Banks
October 26, 2011

Hey, it's almost midseason, and the NFL for the first time in years has no Terrell Owens, no Brett Favre and a very muted and marginalized Chad Ochocinco. I kind of like it. Less noise, and less nonsense. I could get used to this.

Maybe some team gets desperate at receiver and takes a shot on Owens soon, but you had to love it that no one but media members saw fit to attend his much-ballyhooed private workout this week in California. I mean, if a T.O. sweats in the heat and no one sees it, did it really happen?

There's still plenty of the trivial produced every week in the NFL as is, with stories about trash talkers, cheap shots and head coaches who can't help but spout hot air or offend someone. But it's less so this season without the never-ending Favre drama, the self-absorbed Owens, and Ochocinco's penchant for prattling on about anything and everything.

Welcome back to football, indeed. Now on to this week's rankings...

Week 7 NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
I get that the Packers' pass defense seems like a land mine waiting to go off and ruin their perfect season, but every week Green Bay does what it has to do to win. Has any game this season truly felt like it was in doubt? Maybe at Atlanta, in the first half, but not for long. The Packers are a team that plays its best when challenged, but you can't get up for a marquee-level game every week, so you pick your spots. Let's see what the champs do coming off their bye, at San Diego in Week 9. That's a biggie, and Green Bay knows it. Lucky for the Packers they have two weeks to prepare.
2 New England Patriots
Last Week: 2
The Patriots are catching the Steelers when they're hot, with Pittsburgh on a three-game winning streak and holding down first place in their division for the first time all season. But New England has never really feared playing in front of the crazies at Heinz Field. Tom Brady and Co. have shut up their share of Steelers crowds over the years, and the Patriots just seem to match up well against Pittsburgh's aggressive tendencies on defense.
3 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 5
I've always thought the best teams realize you need to forget about a blowout win as quickly as you do a blowout loss, because they're both dangerous in their own way if they linger. The Saints simply aren't as good as they looked in hanging up 62 points against the cratering Colts Sunday night in the Superdome, so there's no benefit to believing a game like that offers a true measure of your team. Things won't go that well but maybe once a decade, so you just chalk it up, and refuse to buy the hype of your own making.
4 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 4
The 49ers (5-1) emerged from their bye week with a three-game lead over second-place Seattle (2-4) in the NFC West, and folks are practically ready to start figuring out their magic number. And after the 49ers handle Cleveland at home and Washington on the road the next two weeks, the playoff talk is going to really start to intensify around a San Francisco team that hasn't tasted the postseason since 2002.
5 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 3
Has there ever been a worse Sunday night-Monday night tandem than Saints-Colts and Jaguars-Ravens? Baltimore was almost unwatchable on offense at Jacksonville, failing to record even a first down in the first half, let alone a point. Baltimore's first 22 plays on offense produced just six yards, and the Jags and Ravens combined for 185 passing yards in the game, which would have passed for a fine showing in the 1940s, when the ball was as round as a pumpkin.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 8
Every year, we overlook the impact made on the standings by the schedule. But which divisions you happen to draw from year to year really matter. The AFC North is living large this season, with three winning teams and a .500 club in last place. You think it's coincidence that the division drew games against the weak AFC South and the weak NFC West? It's not. And for that reason alone, the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals could all have a shot of making the playoffs.
7 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 9
Seeing the Bills place linebacker Shawne Merriman on the season-ending injury list with an Achilles' issue makes you think it really might be lights out for Mr. "Lights Out." It was the same brief story for injury-prone Chargers safety Bob Sanders earlier this year in San Diego, and once upon a time not all that long ago those two looked like they'd be among the NFL's brighest defensive stars for years to come.
8 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 6
Stories about trash talking almost always bore me to tears -- "He said what?" -- so the Lions defensive line vs. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan ultimately belongs in that who-cares category personally. For me the bigger story is that Ndamukong Suh doesn't seem to be creating the same level of havoc that he did during his rookie season. Three sacks through seven games, after a 10-sack season in 2011, is not a strong follow-up. I'm not saying the rest of the league is taking Suh out of games, but he's not taking over games to the same degree he did last year. Who's with me on this one?
9 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 7
The Chargers have themselves a Philip Rivers problem. In five of San Diego's six games, Rivers has had as many or more turnovers than he has touchdown passes, and that's not the ratio you're looking for. In the second half against the Jets, the Chargers were shut out, amassed just 117 yards of offense, went 1 of 7 on third down, and Rivers threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, both of which led to New York scores. Rivers has been the least of the concerns in San Diego for the past five seasons, but he's in one of the worst six-game stretches of his career.
10 New York Giants
Last Week: 12
You might have forgotten this, but the NFL in 1993 experimented with a schedule that gave every team two bye weeks during the course of the regular season. If you think I'm going to make the point that New York is the only team that will be getting back-to-back weeks off this season because the Giants happen to be playing at home against winless Miami on Sunday, you'd be on to something.
11 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 13
I see where some other NFL power rankings (Are there others out there? Who knew?) have the Bengals as low as 16th. Well consider this: Cincinnati lost by two points at Denver in Week 2, and by five points at home against San Francisco in Week 3, meaning they're a mere nine points away from being undefeated this season. And I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt for the rest of the year based on the Carson Palmer trade alone.
12 Houston Texans
Last Week: 16
This is the first time I can remember seeing a Houston team that knows it's good enough, knows it should win, and has the confidence to finish games and get the job done. The Texans are the clear-cut class of the AFC South, and owner Bob McNair's always ample supply of patience will finally be rewarded this season with a playoff berth.
13 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 10
Hue Jackson's motivational skills certainly deserted him last week against visiting Kansas City. His Raiders were flat as a pancake, and they're not good enough yet to win even when their emotional tank is empty. That performance looked like something out of the bad old days of 2006, when Art Shell was coaching and Andrew Walter was trying to play quarterback.
14 New York Jets
Last Week: 17
Okay, I'll give you that the Plaxico Burress signing looks brilliant this week. He had the most productive four-catch, 25-yard receiving game in the history of the NFL on Sunday against the Chargers and it made the difference between the Jets being 3-4 and 4-3 heading into this week's bye. And that's no small distinction. But one game a season doesn't make, and if the Jets go 9-7, and miss the playoffs, Plax's big game in Week 7 will amount to much ado about nothing. Let's wait and see if Burress can repeat that kind of impact in the season's second half.
15 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 18
The Bears have done well for themselves in squeezing a 4-3 record out of their first seven games. They've lost to three quality teams in Green Bay, New Orleans and Detroit, beaten a couple decent clubs in Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and taken care of business at home against the likes of losers Carolina and Minnesota. But their post-bye November slate is challenging: at Philadelphia, home against Detroit and San Diego, and at Oakland. That's probably a 1-3 skid coming, but I've been surprised by the Bears more times than I've been right.
16 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 19
It seems counter-intuitive, but the Falcons seem to be a better team without rookie receiver Julio Jones in the lineup. Jones has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and Atlanta has won both, returning to an offensive style built around the Michael Turner-led running game. That's the offensive identity Atlanta has won with in the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era. Here's the conundrum, though: The Falcons know they need Jones in order to be more explosive in the playoffs and match points with the likes of Green Bay and New Orleans. But to win in the regular season and make the playoffs, they need Turner and the running game to be at the forefront.
17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 11
The best head coaches seem to have a pretty good feel for the pulse of their teams on a week to week basis and know what's coming from them on game day. I don't get the sense that the Bucs' Raheem Morris has quite mastered that part of the job, because he can't get his players to show much consistency this year. Morris seems to tolerate quite a bit of undisciplined play from his young team, and I don't think the ability of Tampa Bay's coaching staff to adjust during a game is where it needs to be just yet.
18 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 20
The best thing about DeMarco Murray's boffo starting debut against the defenseless-Rams was that, for a week at least, Tony Romo got to play just a supporting role in a Dallas win, rather than being the entire focus of Cowboys Nation for another full week. Romo had to like the sound of that after his mercurial season so far in 2011.
19 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 21
So Asante Samuel said he got his feelings hurt because he didn't like hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors last week. Well, this just in, Asante: The Eagles have some other needs on defense, and you're the third cornerback on a team that added both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback this summer. So that quite naturally made you an expendable commodity, especially since you haven't exactly lit it up in Philly so far this season. And did we mention that the trading deadline already passed, and you're still an Eagle? Buck up.
20 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 24
Fine, Todd Haley. Don't shave until your team loses again. But let's not try to turn your facial hair into another year-long Brian Wilson-level sub-plot. As a motivating ploy or the creation of a persona, the whole growing my beard/mustache/goatee act is a bit tired by now. I applaud the Chiefs for fighting their way back to .500, but it might have had something to do with Kansas City playing the Vikings, Colts and QB-needy Raiders, more so than Haley's decision to shelve the razor.
21 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 14
If I'm Chris Johnson's offensive linemen, here's what I want to hear: "If I'm an elite running back, it's up to me to prove it, and so far this season I haven't done that. I've gotten paid, now it's time for the production that I know I'm capable of. The fact that we're ranked last in the league in rushing starts and ends with me." Instead, here's what Johnson said after last Sunday's 10-carry, 18-yard egg-laying at home against Houston: "I won't say that I'm the issue. I'm very confident that I've been doing the things that I've been having to do." That will sure endear you to the guys up front, C.J.
22 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 15
I've dropped the Redskins precipitously, but it's because of the way things are unraveling in D.C. on the injury front. Tim Hightower, gone. Chris Cooley, gone. Starting guard Kory Lichtensteiger, gone. Santana Moss is out for five to seven weeks, and left offensive tackle Trent Williams remains iffy with an ankle sprain. Even linebacker London Fletcher might miss a game for the first time in his 14-year career with a hammy problem. Mike Shanahan's roster simply isn't deep enough to withstand that kind of misfortune and mayhem in terms of health.
23 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 23
The Browns still can look as as ineffective as ever on offense, but it doesn't take much imagination to see that Cleveland is doing a nice job of building something on defense. The Browns rank fourth-best in yards allowed (291.0) and second in pass defense (172.0), with young cogs like defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, and cornerback Joe Haden starting to show up on a consistent basis. A little credit is due first-year Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.
24 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 25
The Panthers roughed up Washington at home last week, and they've got Minnesota at home this week, followed by a bye and then a visit to Charlotte by Tennessee. That has the makings of a three-game winning streak to me, and they haven't seen one of those in Carolina since the final three weeks of the 2009 season.
25 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 25
If that turns out to be the last really good moment to remember for Jack Del Rio in his nine-year coaching tenure in Jacksonville, at least he'll have that Monday-night upset of the heavily favored Ravens to cherish and file away. The Jaguars defense played its butt off against Baltimore, smothering everything the Ravens tried to do all game long. That's not a Jags team that has quit on the embattled Del Rio, and that's a very good sign for the last nine games of the season.
26 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 22
The really scary thing that strikes you about Charlie Whitehurst's pathetic passing performance in Cleveland last Sunday was that he had two weeks to prepare for completing 12 of 30 attempts for 97 yards, or 3.2 per throw. How's that sore pectoral doing, Tarvaris Jackson? Sorry I ever doubted you.
27 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 27
If you like Tim Tebow and root for him to succeed, you walked away from the "Miracle in Miami" last Sunday saying, "See, that guy's a winner." If you don't like Tebow, and you think he's miscast as a starting NFL quarterback, you walked away from that game saying, "See, he's a disaster as a pocket passer." The thing is, you'd both be right based on his showing against the hapless Dolphins.
28 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 28
So much for that preseason storyline that said the Vikings' acquisition of quarterback Donovan McNabb would help jumpstart the career of veteran receiver Bernard Berrian. Minnesota just went 0-for-2 on that front. Maybe Brett Favre had good reason to ignore Berrian in his two seasons as a Vikings QB.
29 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 29
That Super Bowl season of 2008 seems further away all the time in Arizona. The Cardinals have lost five in a row and 14 of 17 going back to Week 6 of last season, and with Kevin Kolb struggling to justify the franchise's big show of faith in him, where's the hope that things are going to get better before they get worse? I have more and more respect for the elevating play of ex-Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner the longer he's retired.
30 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 30
So here's a question that needs asking about now: When does the fiasco in Miami finally start sticking to the Teflon-coated football czar who oversaw its creation, Bill Parcells? He pulled the ripcord on his golden parachute and bailed out quite a while ago now, but his fingerprints are still all over this mess. Here's the stat that says it all about the Dolphins: They've lost 12 of their past 13 home games, and that nearly matches their total amount of home losses for the entire decade of the 1970s, when they went 64-13 at home, including the playoffs.
31 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 31
The Rams just helped put DeMarco Murray into Cowboys folklore, allowing the Dallas rookie running back to shred them for 253 yards on 25 carries. St. Louis was already ranked last against the rush coming into Week 7, so D'Marco Farr might have been able to gouge them for at least triple digits. The Rams gave up 294 rushing yards overall against Dallas, the second-most any NFL team had allowed in two years. And to think that this St. Louis team was playing for a division title and a home playoff game on Jan. 2 of this year.
32 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 32
I'm really not much of a conspiracy theorist -- I even buy the single-bullet theory -- but it does make for a nice, neatly wrapped package that the Colts happen to have the worst record in the NFL and Bill Polian's son, Brian, happens to be a Stanford assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Not that you need an inside source to know that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the guy to go with atop next April's draft.

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