The Broncos took their first loss of the year with a lethargic outing in Indianapolis, and Green Bay has been underwhelming during back-to-back losses. Does one of those two teams still belong at No. 4? Not according to our latest set of Power Rankings, which drops both the Broncos and the Packers, moving them closer to the jumbled pack below.
Here’s how they all stand after Week 9, with a different NFC North team cracking the top five.
1. New England Patriots
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2. Cincinnati Bengals
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3. Carolina Panthers
Almost all the praise for Carolina’s offense lands on Cam Newton, and for the defense, it’s with Luke Kuechly, Josh Norman and now Kawann Short. But this team wouldn’t be where it is without its gaggle of 30-and-up players, like Greg Olsen (30 years old), Ted Ginn (30), Thomas Davis (32) and Roman Harper (33, with the hair of a 45-year old).
4. Minnesota Vikings
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5. Denver Broncos
Aqib Talib’s eye poke on Dwayne Allen was about the tightest coverage Denver played Sunday, on an oddly invisible day for what has been a dominant defense. Oh, and bring the Ronnie Hillman train back to the station. After rushing for 111 yards at Cleveland and scoring twice against Green Bay, Hillman gained one yard in Indianapolis. One.
6. Arizona Cardinals
Is it fair to say that the Cardinals need to win one of their next two games, either at Seattle or home against Cincinnati? They’d prefer to get that W this week, obviously, as it would stretch their NFC West lead to three games. Lose both those games, though, and suddenly Arizona’s at 6–4, likely tied for first with Seattle and teetering on a second-half tumble again.
7. Seattle Seahawks
If we think of the Seahawks as a horror villain, we’re at the part of the script where the music fades and the lights go out and you know something is about to jump out of the shadows. This is a flawed team, but as we saw last season, it is also one capable of a second-half surge. A win over Arizona could be the catalyst.
8. Green Bay Packers
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9. St. Louis Rams
Making the playoffs is a real difficult proposition without an extended win streak, and Sunday’s loss to Minnesota means that St. Louis still has not ripped off three straight victories since Weeks 12–14 of 2012. The Rams also haven’t passed for 200 yards in their last seven games—that’s an even bigger problem.
10. New York Jets
The Jets rank third in turnovers forced this season with 19. Eighteen of those have come in their five wins, including four more against Jacksonville on Sunday. Waiting on those momentum-shifting plays can be a difficult way to make a living, but it sure beats last season, when the Jets forced a total of 13 turnovers, the fewest in the league.
11. New York Giants
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12. Pittsburgh Steelers
With Ben Roethlisberger again ailing, Landry Jones again inherits the mantle of football’s Most Important Landry—a title left vacant since “Friday Night Lights” left the air and robbed us all of Landry Clarke. (Landry + Tyra 4 Ever!)
13. Oakland Raiders
One can’t help but be entertained by this Raiders team. And not in a “Will Al Davis draft a cheetah and try to teach it to play football?” sort of way. The offense is legitimately high-powered right now, while the defense has enough holes that it will cough up 500-yard days like it did Sunday in Pittsburgh.
14. Indianapolis Colts
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15. Philadelphia Eagles
Being unable to shut down Matt Cassel and Cole Beasley doesn’t bode all that well for the defense. Nevertheless, the Eagles have won three of four, and their run game is starting to click. Now, if they can just do something about their inconsistent passing attack and/or Sam Bradford’s baggy jersey sleeves.
16. Buffalo Bills
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17. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are 5–9 in their last 14 games dating back to the 2014 season, so there’s little evidence a sudden playoff push is coming. That’s subject to change should Kansas City make it three straight victories by swiping a win in Denver.
18. Atlanta Falcons
Losing to Blaine Gabbert and the floundering 49ers pushed the Falcons’ outlook from “slumping a bit” to “borderline implosion” real quick. They’re still in wild-card position for now, but the bye week they just hit could not have come at a better time.
19. Chicago Bears
No quarterback in the NFC North has played better football this past month than Jay Cutler. Unfortunately, his play leaves the Bears with a bit of a conundrum. They’d love to have this version of Cutler back in 2016, but his success is making it more and more likely that talented offensive coordinator Adam Gase gets a head coaching shot next season.
20. New Orleans Saints
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21. Baltimore Ravens
“Let's make some history,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said this week, per USA Today, of the Ravens’ attempt to become the first team to make the playoffs after starting 1–6. A predictable and admirable rallying cry, but let’s see if this team can win back-to-back games first before anyone starts dreaming big.
22. Washington Redskins
The Patriots appeared only mildly interested in Sunday’s game and still managed to bury Washington by 17 points. This just isn’t anything more than an average team, no matter how many times Kirk Cousins pieces together late rallies.
23. Miami Dolphins
Might be time for Miami to try its ol’ fire-the-head-coach strategy again, because the Dan Campbell magic wore off in a hurry. After two spirited showings (against two crummy teams), the Dolphins have reverted back to underachieving the past two weeks. Worse yet, these last two losses came within the division.
24. Dallas Cowboys
Matt Cassel threw a pick-six, so sure, slap some blame for Sunday’s result on his shoulders. But let’s be honest: If the Cowboys are going to get 299 yards passing and three TDs from Cassel, 117 yards rushing from Darren McFadden and 27 points, the defense cannot let it all go to waste.
25. Cleveland Browns
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26. Houston Texans
Most of us were stunned to see Indianapolis push around Denver the way it did on Sunday. Houston had to be rather disappointed. Instead of coming out of their bye as the AFC South leaders, the Texans are back in second place and must deal with a trip to Cincinnati on Monday night.
27. San Francisco 49ers
[Sung to the tune of “Davy Crockett” ...] Born on the plains of Ballwin, Missouri. Show-Me State in the Land of the Free. Raised to play football, as anyone could see. Better than Kaepernick as the Niners’ QB. Blainey, Blainey Gabbert, he’s had a crazy career.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans caught eight passes for 152 yards in Sunday’s loss, impressive numbers until we consider that he also dropped six balls—the most by any player in 10 years, per ESPN Stats and Info. Chalk it up as the latest example of growing pains for the Buccaneers.
29. Tennessee Titans
Granted, the Saints’ defense is one step shy of using “Hey, what's that on your shirt? Boop! Made you look!” as a coverage strategy. Don’t let that take anything away from what Marcus Mariota did Sunday, rallying his team back from a pair of 11-point deficits and standing toe to toe with Drew Brees in an OT win.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
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31. San Diego Chargers
Mike McCoy faces a real challenge following a Week 10 bye in keeping his team motivated each week. Now 2–7, the Chargers are out of the playoff race, and injuries keep clobbering them. Having Philip Rivers around will help, but a fiery QB only gets a team so far.
32. Detroit Lions
Joe Lombardi and a couple of other offensive assistants are gone. Team president Tom Lewand: gone. GM Martin Mayhew: gone. Every time Jim Caldwell shows up at the Lions’ facility now, it’s like a reenactment of when Rick Grimes wakes up from his coma on The Walking Dead.