By Don Banks
October 17, 2012

Nice league, NFL. Just two teams with winning records in the AFC. Sixteen teams, or half of Roger Goodell's kingdom, sitting in a clump at either 3-2, 3-3 or 2-3. No true elite class, what with teams like Houston and San Francisco freshly embarrassed at home in Week 6, and no way to define the pecking order in the AFC East, where life is a confusing mess of 3-3s. Only in the once-lowly NFC West are they feeling good about themselves these days, even if it did take 10 years of famine. With three winning teams, that division has the entire AFC beat all by itself and reigns as the best of the bunch.

You like debates this fall? Try to power rank this morass of mediocrity. Here's my latest stab at the order of things. The undefeated Falcons are already my fifth team to climb to No. 1 in the regular season, but I wouldn't suggest they get too comfortable. It's that kind of year in the NFL, where parity has meant the death of predictability, and every week seems to reconfigure the landscape of a league that has stopped making sense. I get the need to keep those TV ratings soaring, but this is ridiculous. Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1 Atlanta <a href=Falcons" title="Atlanta Falcons">
Last Week: 2
The Falcons stole the Raiders' "Just Win, Baby," mantra and clubbed them over the head with it Sunday in the Georgia Dome. But the fourth-quarter formula for victory is making folks nervous down South, and you can understand why. Cutting it close for three weeks in a row is a tricky game plan to extend into the future. The Falcons haven't beaten a team that currently has a winning record, but that's the league's fault more than their fault. A bye this week and a trip to play the desperate Eagles next week is all Mike Smith's team has to concern itself with for now.
2 Baltimore <a href=Ravens" title="Baltimore Ravens">
Last Week: 4
I've been saying since training camp the Ravens will only go as far as their offense takes them this season, but now we really mean it. Since last season's AFC title game ended, Baltimore's defense has lost coordinator Chuck Pagano, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and a few others. That's no small talent drain. But the Ravens offense can and will pick up the slack, and it seems like a good bit of timing for quarterback Joe Flacco to be playing out his contract year in a situation where he needs to throw to win.
3 New York <a href=Giants" title="New York Giants">
Last Week: 9
The champs looked like the champs last Sunday at Candlestick, and the best news was the return of their vaunted pass rush, which made Alex Smith look like the 2005-2010 version of himself instead of the vastly improved model we've seen since Jim Harbaugh took the 49ers">49ers coaching gig. Now comes the tricky test for New York: a home game against the plucky Redskins. Don't snicker. Washington beat the Giants twice last season with Rex Grossman, and Robert Griffin III presents a considerably more complicated challenge.
4 Houston <a href=Texans" title="Houston Texans">
Last Week: 1
The Texans came up small on the big stage against Green Bay last Sunday night, and of special concern was a Houston pass defense that got shredded by Aaron Rodgers and Co. But in reality, an interconference loss to a good team like the Packers isn't too damaging. The game the Texans have been pointing to for a while now is this week's visit from AFC power Baltimore. The Ravens beat Houston twice last season, including in the divisional playoffs, so there's both familiarity and contempt. Let the Texans come out flat this time, and Houston will have itself a problem.
5 49ers/">49ers_50.png" alt="San Francisco 49ers" title="San Francisco 49ers">
Last Week: 3
49ers/">San Francisco 49ers (4-2)
Records aside, one way to gauge the relative difference between the Jets and Giants is how they fared against the 49ers. The Jets lost at home to them in Week 4, 34-0, while the G-Men dismantled San Francisco on the road in Week 6, 26-3. That's an eye-popping 57-point swing, but I think what it really means is the Giants are definitely in the 49ers' heads, and the Jets aren't even on their radar screen.
6 Chicago <a href=Bears" title="Chicago Bears">
Last Week: 6
Now that the Bears see the Packers might be closer in their rear-view mirror than they first appeared, it would behoove Chicago to keep the pedal to the metal and take care of business against the likes of the two-win Lions, the one-win Panthers and the two-win Titans in the coming three weeks. Because after that, the Bears will face seven consecutive games against teams that either currently have winning records, or are the hated Packers.
7 Green Bay <a href=Packers" title="Green Bay Packers">
Last Week: 12
We all have our opinions, but I thought Aaron Rodgers' "Shhhhhh" answer to Michele Tafoya Sunday night in Houston struck just the right tone. We all need to quiet the non-stop chatter once in a while and just let things play out. Rodgers was just reminding us that there's talk and there's action, and actions will always speak louder and carry more weight. They certainly did for the suddenly resurgent Packers in Houston.
8 Seattle <a href=Seahawks" title="Seattle Seahawks">
Last Week: 16
If Russell Wilson keeps throwing like he did in the mist of the fourth quarter against New England, I can see a "Slingin' in the Rain" ad campaign coming his way in Seattle this season. I don't know if he can do a little Gene Kelly number in the street with the hat and umbrella, but the Seahawks rookie quarterback may be the most refreshing story in the NFL this season, and we've only just begun to hear about him.
9 New England <a href=Patriots" title="New England Patriots">
Last Week: 5
That New England pass defense is becoming a problem again this season (8.1 net yards per pass attempt), and it got exposed with the game on the line in Seattle. Fortunately for the Patriots, it's Jets week, and New York quarterback Mark Sanchez threw for just 82 yards in the win over the Colts, with most of the damage coming via the Jets ground game. First place (and last place) in the AFC East is on the line Sunday in Foxboro, even if it doesn't really feel like it.
10 Minnesota <a href=Vikings" title="Minnesota Vikings">
Last Week: 7
The upstart Vikings didn't play their game in Washington, throwing the ball way too much and getting sloppy on defense and suffering breakdowns in containment for the first time all season. It was the kind of result that should remind a young turnaround team to not take success for granted. We shall see if the lesson has been learned this week at home against Arizona.
11 Denver <a href=Broncos" title="Denver Broncos">
Last Week: 15
Watching Peyton Manning and the Broncos rally in the second half Monday night at San Diego, I was never more glad I picked Denver to win the AFC West this season. There's not a doubt in my mind that Manning gives the Broncos an edge the Chargers, Raiders and Chiefs can't compete with. Let's face it: No. 18 did indeed choose well by going to Denver, even if people were saying he should have signed with Arizona when the Broncos trailed 24-0 at halftime Monday night.
12 Arizona <a href=Cardinals" title="Arizona Cardinals">
Last Week: 8
Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb is going to be out for a while yet again, because he reportedly suffered the painful sounding injury of having several ribs detached from his sternum against the Bills on Sunday. That's what playing behind the dreadful Arizona offensive line -- and absorbing 22 sacks in the past three games -- will do for a quarterback: detach body parts that are not supposed to be detached.
13 Philadelphia <a href=Eagles" title="Philadelphia Eagles">
Last Week: 11
Well, I'd say Andy Reid finally understands the urgency of the situation in Philly. It's win-or-surrender-your-parking-space time. Firing a coordinator and benching a quarterback are two of the biggest cards an embattled head coach can play in midseason to try to save the ship from going down. Reid just did one of those, and looks ready to do the other any minute now.
14 Miami <a href=Dolphins" title="Miami Dolphins">
Last Week: 20
The Dolphins in the league's upper half? Sure, why not? Joe Philbin's team has played its way out of the bottom third of the league and is starting to create a little identity for itself. Playing very solid defense and getting more than they had the right to expect from rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins take their bye this week with a nice little buzz attached to their season.
15 Pittsburgh <a href=Steelers" title="Pittsburgh Steelers">
Last Week: 10
The Steelers just can't close out a game on the road this season, losing in similar fashion in Denver, Oakland and Tennessee. Pittsburgh doesn't seem to scare anyone any more, and that's so un-Steeler-like. I'm still not ready to bury Mike Tomlin's team, but I think it's fair to say Pittsburgh's division title hopes may be on the line Sunday night at Cincinnati. If the Steelers start 2-4, catching the Ravens may be very unlikely, even with two games remaining against Baltimore.
16 Washington <a href=Redskins" title="Washington Redskins">
Last Week: 21
After having its collective heart broken by the Nationals' epic Game 5 collapse Friday night, boy, did the D.C. area need that cathartic Robert Griffin III-led Redskins win on Sunday against Minnesota. Griffin to the rescue is a pattern Washington fans could get used to. And the comeback against the Vikings also stopped an eight-game Redskins home losing streak that stretched back to Week 6 of 2011, so there's that.
17 New York <a href=Jets" title="New York Jets">
Last Week: 22
First off, I know what you're thinking Jets fans: How can Miami be at No. 14 and we're at 17, and yet we beat the Dolphins on the road and we're both 3-3? For starters, Miami has been more consistent the past five weeks. And secondly, the Fish have yet to lose 34-0 to anyone, let alone at home, as New York did against the 49ers in Week 4. But I promise I'll make it up to you, Jet-heads. Just win in New England this week and I'll have your heroes hop-skotching those bye-taking Dolphins in a Miami minute.
18 St. Louis <a href=Rams" title="St. Louis Rams">
Last Week: 14
If it was in St. Louis, with the Rams' dome-field environment, rather than a windy day in South Florida, I'm convinced rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein would have hit that 66-yard attempt to tie the game and shatter the NFL's field goal record by a whopping three yards. It's just a matter of time before that mark falls to Zuerlein's long-distance leg.
19 San Diego <a href=Chargers" title="San Diego Chargers">
Last Week: 13
As the Broncos stormed back from that 24-point deficit in the second half against San Diego, you just knew the Chargers were what we call "hopelessly ahead." They had the lead, but it didn't feel like it, and it wasn't going to last long. Just wondering how the decision to bring Norv Turner back for more of the same in 2012 is sitting in the San Diego organization about now? If the pressure isn't on Turner and general manager A.J. Smith after that debacle, it never will be.
20 Buffalo <a href=Bills" title="Buffalo Bills">
Last Week: 24
The Bills needed that win in Arizona in the worst way, and I did love the retro blue pants fashion statement. But now Buffalo needs to keep its head down and take care of business at home against 2-4 Tennessee. Oh, and somebody remind the Bills to look out for that cross-field pass on kickoff returns that the Titans like to try every so often. I think they successfully ran it once in a playoff game a while back.
21 Cincinnati <a href=Bengals" title="Cincinnati Bengals">
Last Week: 17
The Bengals should be in better shape as they head into a pivotal three-game homestand against Pittsburgh, Denver and the Giants, but they lacked the killer instinct to handle the Dolphins at home and the Browns on the road. They have to win two out of these next three to make the season's second half as meaningful as it should be.
22 Detroit <a href=Lions" title="Detroit Lions">
Last Week: 23
I'd like to think the Lions won one for Alex Karras last week at Philadelphia, but in reality Jim Schwartz's players aren't old enough to remember him from his acting career, let alone his football days. That's too bad, because he was one of the game's originals, and the kind of rebel you rooted for. Back in the day, the commissioner suspended him for an entire season, but it was a different kind of bounty he was collecting.
23 Dallas <a href=Cowboys" title="Dallas Cowboys">
Last Week: 18
Whatever happened to that Cowboys team that went into the Meadowlands in Week 1 and found a way to spoil the party for the defending Super Bowl champion Giants? Dallas has since largely reverted to form, coming up short in the clutch, making excuses for its mistakes, and not paying attention to game-turning details (like the clock). Can you tell I'm down on Jerry's underachievers? I thought you could.
24 Indianapolis <a href=Colts" title="Indianapolis Colts">
Last Week: 19
I guess the Colts and everyone else should have seen the emotional letdown coming against the Jets last week. The win over the Packers was so much more than a victory, and this is still an Indy team that is learning what it can and can't do. Which brings me to the issues on run defense. The Jets steamrolled the Colts for 252 yards on the ground, and opponents likely will keep trying to go that route (like the visiting Browns this week?) until Indy plugs a few running lanes.
25 Tampa Bay <a href=Buccaneers" title="Tampa Bay Buccaneers">
Last Week: 25
In case you missed it, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns in the rout of the Chiefs, on only 15 completions. That's almost 22 yards per reception for Tampa Bay, and that will overcome a lot of sins. For comparison sake, the Saints' Drew Brees averaged 11.7 yards per completion last season when he set an NFL single-season passing yardage record with 5,476. Coincidentally, it's Brees vs. Freeman this week when the Saints travel to Tampa Bay.
26 New Orleans <a href=Saints" title="New Orleans Saints">
Last Week: 26
The Saints can't worry for a second about the 6-0 Falcons in the NFC South. They have to focus like a laser on 1-4 Carolina and 2-3 Tampa Bay only. They can catch the Bucs with a win at Tampa Bay this week, and maybe even step over the Panthers if Carolina stumbles at home against Dallas. New Orleans can only recover one week at a time.
27 Tennessee <a href=Titans" title="Tennessee Titans">
Last Week: 31
At least the Titans have given their fans a couple of homefield highlights this season: That thrill-a-minute overtime win against Detroit in Week 3, and the Thursday-night upset against Pittsburgh last week. Tennessee plays just one team currently above .500 (the Bears) between now and Thanksgiving weekend, so the opportunity to use the big win over the Steelers to start a little run is there for the taking.
28 Cleveland <a href=Browns" title="Cleveland Browns">
Last Week: 30
It's been a good week for the Browns. They get their first win of the season and snap that 11-game skid, and they get newly approved ownership in Jimmy Haslam. Ousted team president Mike Holmgren knows some football, but facts are facts, and his Browns were 10-28 since he was brought in to run the show in 2010. As a personnel executive, Holmgren always did make a heck of a head coach. Which is OK. We all have our strengths.
29 Carolina <a href=Panthers" title="Carolina Panthers">
Last Week: 27
Let's see what the Panthers have figured out about themselves after their bye week. Dallas visits this week, and the Cowboys have their own host of issues. I expect to see a Carolina offense that's more versatile, balanced and gets back to what it does best. This might be the most important game of the season yet for second-year Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. A little success for him against Dallas might go a long way toward restoring his confidence and his game.
30 Oakland <a href=Raiders" title="Oakland Raiders">
Last Week: 28
At what point do the Raiders concede the costly Carson Palmer deal hasn't worked out? He's been in Oakland a year as of this week, and the Raiders have lost 10 of the 15 games he's played. Palmer hasn't played badly this season for the most part (six touchdowns, three interceptions, 88.7 passer rating), but Oakland keeps losing, and he's not making a bottom-line difference where it matters.
31 Jacksonville <a href=Jaguars" title="Jacksonville Jaguars">
Last Week: 32
For the 3.2 percent of the country getting the Jaguars at Raiders game on TV this Sunday, enjoy. Most of my attention will be focused elsewhere. Anywhere, elsewhere.
32 Kansas City <a href=Chiefs" title="Kansas City Chiefs">
Last Week: 29
Have to admit I'm surprised Romeo Crennel hasn't remotely continued the positive impact he made on the Chiefs once he was named the team's interim head coach last December. Not having his team's quarterback situation figured out probably has a lot to do with that, but where is the same effort and intensity he coaxed out of his Chiefs in that memorable upset of the 13-0 Packers in Week 15 of 2011?

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