By Don Banks
November 09, 2011

The NFL really has become a league where almost everything is a week to week proposition. Wasn't it just the other day the Jets, Bears, Steelers and Falcons were down and out, and the Patriots, Chargers, Bills, Chiefs, Raiders and Redskins were up and on their way?

We base nearly every perception we have about the NFL on what just happened last weekend, confidently predict what will happen this weekend, and then react accordingly when little of it unfolds as expected. We then repeat the entire process next week.

Thank goodness for the unbeaten Packers and the winless Colts. At least you can count on the league's two polar opposites for a little consistency this season. It's the other 30 teams in between that seem to take their turns confounding us. Now onto this week's rankings....

Week 9 NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
The Packers' pass defense is a calamity, the pass rush is spotty, and Charles Woodson finally let loose after Sunday's nail-biter in San Diego, decrying the "bad football" that was being played by Green Bay's defense. The reality is the Packers have given up a ton of yardage to nearly every quarterback they've faced, but not all the news is bad. The Packers defense leads the NFL with 16 interceptions, and takeaways help negate some of the impact of all those passing yards. But Green Bay knows its shortcomings, and has smart coaching on defense with coordinator Dom Capers. Look for the Packers to tighten things up noticeably in the season's second half, and find ways to rush the passer.
2 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 3
Well let's see how the 49ers handle our power rankings No. 2 spot, which has been a revolving door/kiss of death in the shadow of the top-rated Packers all season long. New England, New Orleans and Pittsburgh have taken their turns in our runner-up slot, but nobody has been able to stay on the bull for long stretches. The 49ers might have a little stick to them, with a pair of home games against the Giants and Cardinals just ahead. Even a modest projection of San Francisco's second-half schedule should get the Harbaugh-men to 12-4 territory, and that should put them well in range of a first-round bye.
3 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 4
After visiting Ravens camp in early August to write about the team's Pittsburgh problem, I hazarded that I liked Baltimore's chances to flip the script on the Steelers this year and put together a run of its own in that fascinating AFC North rivalry. Much more than the Ravens' 35-7 Week 1 route of Pittsburgh, Baltimore's 92-yard, Joe Flacco-led game-winning drive last Sunday night at Heinz Field tipped the balance of power slightly eastward for now.
4 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 8
The Saints-Falcons rivalry has been entertaining and colorful over the years, but it's a relative rarity to have both teams be this good at the same time. Still, New Orleans has dominated in Atlanta lately, winning its past two trips into the Georgia Dome, and going 4-1 there overall in the Sean Payton era (2006-on). The Saints have matched that mark at home against the Falcons, making Payton 8-2 against Atlanta overall. That makes Sunday's showdown perhaps the Falcons' last, best chance to climb over New Orleans and into the NFC South lead this season. This is the time of year when you want teams that are very familiar with each other, and a little bit hostile, going head to head.
5 New York Giants
Last Week: 9
Did you see that postgame clip of the Giants in the winning locker room in New England, lifting 65-year-old head coach Tom Coughlin off the ground in jubilation? The Giants players do seem to play hard for their old, stern-faced coach, and that was a win worthy of a celebration. But another difficult assignment awaits: A coast-to-coast trip to San Francisco, where the 49ers' six-game winning streak trails only the accomplishment of the 8-0 Packers.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 2
Up until they let Torrey Smith get behind them in the end zone in the final seconds, the Steelers had all the makings of another dagger-through-the-heart defeat of Baltimore: The comeback from a 10-point deficit; the key takeaway at the perfect time; the Ben Roethlisberger improvisational touchdown pass that simply could not be diagrammed. But one play changed all that, and maybe changed Pittsburgh's entire season. The same way that Troy Polamalu's strip sack of Joe Flacco changed 2010 in Baltimore.
7 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 7
While everything seems well in line for the Lions to lock up that long-awaited playoff berth in the season's second half, it's too early for Detroit to start the magic number watch. This week's trip to red-hot Chicago is no picnic, and the Lions still have two games remaining against Green Bay, as well as tough road games at New Orleans and Oakland. It's head down, keep plowing time in Detroit.
8 New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
There was some sentiment expressed Tuesday that the team's release of Albert Haynesworth would serve as a warning shot over the heads of the rest of the underachieving Patriots, but I don't buy it. New England over the years has gotten rid of handfuls of veterans who weren't performing, and I don't think the banishment of Haynesworth, who was contributing absolutely nothing, has any shock value at all in Foxboro. As midseason moves go, this wasn't Randy Moss being handed his walking papers.
9 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 10
Besides their oft-mentioned four games remaining against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the Bengals' other four games are home versus Cleveland, Houston and Arizona, and at St. Louis. Could Cincinnati lose all four division games, win its other four, and still make the playoffs at 10-6? I'd say it's possible, although perhaps not likely given how the wild-card tiebreakers might fall in that scenario. Still, it doesn't look like the AFC West will have a wild-card qualifier, nor the AFC South. If the Bills and Patriots continue to struggle, the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals could all somehow make the dance out of the AFC North.
10 Houston Texans
Last Week: 11
Maybe everything in the AFC South this season will come with the caveat that this is the year that Manning missed, but even so, Houston's improvement on defense is remarkable. As the Houston Chronicle points out this week, the No. 1-ranked Texans have allowed 2,466 yards of offense this season, compared to 3,687 through nine games of last year. That's a 33 percent improvement, and for that, new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips should take a bow.
11 New York Jets
Last Week: 15
I wrote in Sunday's Snap Judgments about the Jets getting their swagger back with that dominating defensive performance in Buffalo, and I thought it was a pretty original thought. Then in the next 12 to 24 hours I read about 27 other references to the Jets and the reacquisition of their "swagger" with the win over the Bills. So I guess it wasn't all that original. Some teams just seem to have a word they're known for, and with New York in the Rex Ryan era, it would have to be swagger.
12 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 17
It has been a pretty good four weeks for Lovie Smith's team, which is 3-0 with a bye over the course of the past month. If the playoffs started today (and it would mess up the entire NFL schedule if they did) the Bears would be the NFC's second wild-card team, and they own tiebreakers over the Falcons, Bucs and Eagles, all of whom they beat head to head. And even better, if Chicago can knock off Detroit this week at home, the Bears will pull into a second-place tie behind Green Bay in the NFC North.
13 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 6
The Bills are taking a significant tumble this week after their egg-laying at home against the Jets, and that's where 11 consecutive non-playoff seasons come back to haunt Buffalo. You don't get the benefit of the doubt when you're in this situation. You get the "Same Old Bills" chant cranking to life and the doubters coming out of the woodwork. But maybe head coach Chan Gailey can play the revenge card this week at Dallas as well as he did at Kansas City in Week 1. If so, Gailey, the ex-Cowboys head coach who twice led Dallas into the playoffs and still got fired, will have his young team back on track.
14 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 18
I know the top of the draft should produce impact rookies, but it doesn't always work out that way, does it? It does this year. Here's your top seven picks from 2011, and there's not a non-contributor among them: No. 1 Cam Newton, No. 2 Von Miller, No. 3 Marcell Dareus, No. 4 A.J. Green, No. 5 Patrick Peterson, No. 6 Julio Jones and No. 7 Aldon Smith. Talk about an impressive crop of young stars. You have to get to No. 8 Jake Locker to find a rookie who is not yet showing up on game day.
15 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 16
Amid all the questions and hand-wringing over Philip Rivers' disappointing and puzzling season, why haven't we heard more in the way of answers and potential fixes from Norv Turner, with his long track record of quarterback coaching and offensive expertise? Isn't that part of Turner's forte, the passing game and how to get it going? So Norv, a lonely Chargers nation turns its eyes to you.
16 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 12
About last week. I could not have been more wrong regarding the Eagles and where I saw them headed. I offer a thousand mea culpas, with a few dozen pardons sprinkled in. After the Eagles let yet another fourth-quarter lead get away at home, this time against Chicago on Monday night, Philly's road to the playoffs grew considerably in its degree of difficulty. This is the last time I will have the Eagles peeking their noses above the bottom half of our rankings if they fail once again.
17 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 21
With quarterbacks Cam Newton and Andy Dalton dominating the discussion, and receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones making things happen, where does Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray deserve to rate in terms of the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year debate? He got a late start, but he's coming up strong on the outside. And he's dragging the entire Cowboys offense along with him.
18 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 19
You feel for Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who just suffered the second torn biceps injury of his two-year NFL career. If we didn't already, I think we now know for certain that Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh was the correct choice for Detroit over McCoy at No. 2 in the 2010 draft.
19 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 13
Tough year to be a Chiefs fan. At 0-3, you had just come to grips with the idea that it was not to be this season, and started dreaming about Andrew Luck. Then Kansas City awakens, wins four in a row and vaults into a three-way tie for first place. Hope springs back into your heart, and the schedule again seems to make sense. Then Miami at home happens. Now what?
20 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 14
Maybe Hue Jackson doesn't have all the answers after all. The Raiders could still win this mediocre division, but at the very least the past two games should shake the faith of those who believed Oakland had found its next John Madden or Tom Flores. Jackson made Carson Palmer his big, season-saving gamble, and so far the Raiders' rookie head coach is wiping egg off his face.
21 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 20
It doesn't look like the Titans are going to make a run at it in the AFC South, but they might have a real impact in the NFC South in the coming five weeks. Tennessee goes at Carolina, at Atlanta, and home against Tampa Bay in its coming three games, and then draws a visit from New Orleans on Dec. 11. No soft touches there, which is why I think the Titans might not see the likes of .500 again this season.
22 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 22
The Vikings gave the Packers a game in Week 7 in the dome, but now Minnesota rookie quarterback Christian Ponder gets his first taste of the Lambeau Field environment. If I were calling plays for the Vikings this week, I would make sure running back Adrian Peterson is rested and ready to carry the rock 30 times coming off the bye week.
23 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 23
Ron Rivera welcomed his players back from their bye-week break with a full-pads practice on Monday, and I like it as a tone-setter. The Panthers have promise, and they shouldn't be content with just staying competitive in most of their games this season. Rivera was reminding them that it starts with hard work, and the season's second half doesn't have to follow the same script as the first half.
24 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 30
Lost in all the Tebow debate is the season being turned in by Willis McGahee. The 30-year-old veteran Denver running back has been quite the pick-up, and I know of plenty of personnel evaluators who thought he was pretty much on empty at this point in his career. Without his 163 yards rushing and two second-half touchdown runs in that upset at Oakland, the Broncos aren't within sniffing distance of first place in the AFC West.
25 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 24
People did try to tell the Redskins that they might want to go shopping for another option at quarterback in the offseason. I remember, because it was in all the papers. But nope, said the Shanahans, Washington was set with John Beck and Rex Grossman. You'll see. Well, we've seen all right. Guess which team will be shopping for other options at quarterback next offseason?
26 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 25
The Browns have put together some solid second-half performances in recent years (see Mangini, Eric, saving his job in 2009), but it's time for Pat Shurmur's first Cleveland team to show us a little something. With the one-win Rams and the two-win Jaguars coming to town the next two weeks, there will be no better opportunity. Like the Bengals, the Browns still have two games remaining against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
27 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 26
The Jaguars defense has done its job this year, but the offense is beyond anemic, ranking 32nd in yards, 32nd in points, 32nd in passing and 29th on third downs. The Jaguars need to focus on improving the passing game in the second half, finding out what rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert does best at this point, and letting him cut it loose a little.
28 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 28
Not exactly the triumphant return to Philadelphia that Kevin Kolb probably imagined, eh? If he doesn't play with his turf toe injury, and it seems more likely he won't, would that be better or worse than him playing and performing poorly in front of his former hometown fans? For the Cardinals, a rough outing by Kolb would only intensify the questions that surround the trade in the first place.
29 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 29
Searching for bright spots amid the rubble that has been Seattle's season, it was at least good news to report a Marshawn Lynch sighting in the loss at Dallas. The ex-Bill running back cruised to a 135-yard game against the Cowboys -- his Seattle career high -- and has scored a rushing touchdown in each of his past four games.
30 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 31
The Dolphins took out eight weeks of frustration on the Chiefs, and I think the venting/payback continues this week when Washington and its punch-less offense visits. With 11 losses in their last 12 games at home, the Fish owe the home fans at least one pleasant Sunday afternoon.
31 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 27
The Rams special teams gifted the Cardinals with the win last Sunday, and any sense of momentum St. Louis got from its upset of the Saints in Week 8 went up in a puff of smoke. It's getting more difficult all the time to see how Steve Spagnuolo survives winning just nine times in the first 40 games of his 2 1/2-season tenure in St. Louis.
32 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 32
Speaking of coaches in trouble, did Indy's Jim Caldwell really say of his Colts: "You can see that they are going to fight you until the end." This is a team that lost 62-7 a few weeks back. This is a team that has dropped its past three games by an average of 32 points. So I don't know which Colts team Caldwell is watching, but it's not the one playing on Sundays in the NFL. Indy has been outscored by 155 points this season, easily the worst point differential in the league, and that's a margin of more than 17 per game.

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