Undefeated teams like the Falcons and Panthers fall behind the Cardinals and Jets, who have faced tougher schedules. But with dominant division leaders, the middle-of-the-pack is most intriguing.

By Chris Burke
October 13, 2015

If we've learned anything so far this NFL season, it is that the wild-card race will be heated in both conferences. The division races? Well, maybe not so much. The Bengals, Colts, Broncos, Packers and Cardinals all hold at least two-game leads within their respective divisions, and the other three first-place teams (New England, Green Bay and Atlanta) all are undefeated.

So keep an eye on the middle of the pack in our latest Power Rankings. That's where the real battles could be over the next 12 weeks.

Here's how the teams fall this week:

1
New England Patriots
1
4-0
Where you can find a line (some books are waiting on Andrew Luck’s status), the Patriots currently sit as eight-point favorites for their Sunday night game in Indianapolis. Eight also is the over/under for number of times Rob Gronkowski blocks a Colts defender into the stands and the number of times Tom Brady spikes the football in the direction of Indianapolis’s bench.
2
Green Bay Packers
2
5-0
Watching the Rams score two INTs off Aaron Rodgers was like a movie scene where a villain gets punched in the face and just reacts by dabbing away the blood, smiling and proceeding to pummel someone. Rodgers said afterward that he and the Packers’ offense need to be better, but a 5-0 record behind a top-five attack is a pretty good starting point.
3
Cincinnati Bengals
3
5-0
• BANKS: Dalton deals blow to Bengals’ demons
4
Arizona Cardinals
5
4-1
Five Cardinals scored in Sunday’s win, not including 100-yard rusher Chris Johnson. Some of that success no doubt has to do with the Lions’ lacking compete-level, but this also was the third time Arizona topped 40 points already this season. There is enough proof to back any claim of this attack as among the league’s best.
5
Denver Broncos
4
5-0
“Peyton [Manning] is doing just fine,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said Monday, per USA Today, making him the frontrunner for this season’s “It’s Just a Flesh Wound” award. Manning’s play has been a problem and pretending otherwise is silly. Still, it might do wonders for the passing attack if Denver could muster anything at all on the ground.
6
Atlanta Falcons
6
5-0
The Falcons already have surpassed their 2013 win total and they are one away from matching their ’14 mark. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that victory No. 5 this season, Sunday vs. Washington, came on a day where Matt Ryan played sorta Sanchezesque. Or is it Mallett-like? Either way, it wasn’t good but Atlanta won anyway.
7
New York Jets
7
3-1
What do Chris Ivory and the Rams’ Todd Gurley have in common? They're tied atop the league rankings with a per-game rushing average of 104.7 yards. Only Le’Veon Bell (100.7) and Adrian Peterson (93.0) can join them in boasting better than 90 yards per outing.
8
Carolina Panthers
8
4-0
Just in time for a Week 6 trip to Seattle, here comes Luke Kuechly to ... uh ... well, not save the day. The Panthers are 4–0 and forced five turnovers their last time out, without Kuechly in the lineup. Kuechly will help, of course, but more in the way that, say, Batman would if the bad guys just turned themselves in before he got there.
9
Minnesota Vikings
10
2-2
Minnesota continues to cling to a top-10 spot mostly on potential alone. We’re about to find out how legit those expectations are. The Vikings’ next five (Kansas City, at Detroit, at Chicago, St. Louis, at Oakland) is prime picking if they’re to string together a few wins.
10
Seattle Seahawks
9
2-3
• BEDARD: Seahawks’ D no longer intimidating
11
New York Giants
13
3-2
Eli Manning turned it loose Sunday night, finishing with career highs in completions (41) and pass attempts (54), all while rallying New York for a late victory. The Giants would prefer to avoid quite so wide-open a game, but they’re doing whatever it takes the past three weeks, and that’s enough to have them pacing the NFC East.
12
Pittsburgh Steelers
17
3-2
The revelation that Ben Roethlisberger called Michael Vick’s deep TD pass Monday night probably will not chase away offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s critics. No matter how they got there, the Steelers stole a huge road win.
13
Buffalo Bills
14
3-2
Feel a bit like I’m poking my head outside after a tornado warning every time the Bills win. Is it safe now? To snap their five-game run alternating wins and losses, the Bills will need EJ Manuel—reportedly in for an injured Tyrod Taylor—to play like the QB we saw flashes of in the preseason and not the QB he once was for this team.
14
Indianapolis Colts
16
3-2
No offense to Matt Hasselbeck, who basically hauled an IV around with him in the pocket last Thursday, but what are you doing, AFC South? If the Jaguars and Texans can’t knock off the Colts when Andrew Luck is out of the lineup, how is this division ever going to change hands? Indianapolis still has visible flaws, but five or six more wins might be enough for the division crown.
15
St. Louis Rams
12
2-3
The Rams have a bye week now to figure out how they can translate Todd Gurley’s otherworldly skills into a more consistent offensive effort as a whole. St. Louis has maxed out at 352 yards in its five games; its best pass Sunday came from punter Johnny Hekker on a busted fake.
16
Philadelphia Eagles
21
2-3
• FARRAR: Eagles are not using Murray right
17
Washington Redskins
15
2-3
Washington’s losses thus far, particularly in Week 1 vs. Miami and Sunday vs. Atlanta, are indicative of a solid team that is a couple pieces away from being a real contender. One of those missing pieces still happens to be at QB, of course, which is a lingering problem.
18
Cleveland Browns
23
2-3
Playing back-to-back games with a combined 120 points scored is not how Mike Pettine necessarily envisions his team operating, but it does make the Browns quite entertaining. Just imagine how much fun they would be with Johnny Manz ... no? Oh, we’re not doing that anymore?
19
San Diego Chargers
11
2-3
The Chargers are now 2–2 in games decided by five or fewer points this season. Between the MASH unit posing as an offensive line and a defense that's allowing upward of 130 yards per game on the ground, it’s fair to wonder if San Diego will be able to find any easy wins.
20
Chicago Bears
30
2-3
From No. 32 a couple weeks back to the top 20 (and probably destined to finish somewhere between the two spots), the Bears at least have shown signs of life. Quietly, the defense has transitioned from being an unspeakable nightmare in 2014 to actually providing some resistance in 2015. Neither the Raiders nor Chiefs hit 300 yards vs. Chicago. Turns out, Vic Fangio knows what he’s doing.
21
Baltimore Ravens
20
1-4
The Ravens landing at No. 21 after coughing up 500 yards and 33 points to Cleveland, at home. But we're about to tread into some murky Power Rankings waters here. The Ravens losses have been of the close variety, which does allow them to play the “We are competitive” card.
22
Dallas Cowboys
18
2-3
• BURKE: Cowboys need to change QBs now
23
Oakland Raiders
22
2-3
The most important play in Sunday’s loss to Denver might have been the missed 40-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. Make that, and the Raiders take a 10–9 lead and Derek Carr's later pick-six may not happen. For a team like this one, trying to build from the bottom-up, there just is not much margin for error.
24
Miami Dolphins
25
1-3
Don’t think the Dolphins can turn it around this season? We’ll see how you feel about hard-nosed interim coach Dan Campbell yells at you to TOUGHEN UP AND GET IT TOGETHER for the next hour. Campbell’s first two games (at Tennessee, vs. Houston) do allow the Dolphins a shot at getting to 3–3.
25
Kansas City Chiefs
19
1-4
Four straight losses for a Chiefs team that believed it could contend in the AFC West. So what now? Well, Andy Reid may not be on the verge of losing his job but he shouldn’t be too comfortable either. Don’t forget, Kansas City and Detroit play in London soon, with a bye week after. That setup has led to two coach firings in the past two years.
26
San Francisco 49ers
28
1-4
Colin Kaepernick played a more comfortable, even confident game on Sunday, albeit in a loss to the Giants. The 49ers still need to see him pull a similar effort off several more times before they’ll feel OK committing to him beyond this season.
27
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
31
2-3
Doug Martin scored three touchdowns on 158 yards from scrimmage Sunday, and Charles Sims rushed for 51 yards with another 85 receiving. The Buccaneers are rediscovering their run game. Now if they could get that Mike Evans search party together, they might be onto something.
28
New Orleans Saints
24
1-4
• C.J. Spiller headlines players you should drop
29
Tennessee Titans
26
1-3
Keep an eye on rookie David Cobb, who is set to return from injury soon. The Titans are trying to scrap together a run game without any of the options there stepping up to take the No. 1 job. Cobb should get a shot when he returns, and Marcus Mariota could use a true lead back alongside him.
30
Houston Texans
29
1-4
There have been some dark days in the Texans’ relatively brief franchise history, but there are not a whole lot of losses more inexcusable than Thursday’s to the Colts. Rather than take advantage of Luck’s absence to rejoin the playoff chase, the Texans all but buried their 2015 season.
31
Detroit Lions
27
0-5
• BENOIT: How have the Lions fallen so far?
32
Jacksonville Jaguars
32
1-4
There are signs of life if one looks hard enough, not the least of which being Allen Hurns's and Allen Robinson’s steady development as Blake Bortles's targets. The results have to start showing up, though—the Jaguars are still sitting on just 10 combined wins the past four seasons.

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