• There's a new team on top, one that boasts what could be a historically great defense. Meanwhile, it's looking more and more like the disappointing Panthers may not even make the playoffs this year.
By Chris Burke
October 12, 2016

The NFC teams in playoff position through five weeks: Vikings, Cowboys, Falcons, Seahawks, Packers and Eagles. In the AFC: Raiders, Steelers, Patriots, Texans, Broncos and Ravens (with the Bills tied for that final spot).

Obviously, a long road remains in the regular season, but teams currently outside the top six in their respective conferences aren't exactly lining up to storm the gates. In piecing together this week's Power Rankings, it was far more difficult finding teams deserving of spots in the top half than it was filling out the depths.

Will the field close the gap on the frontrunners in Week 6? There are opportunities to do so: Miami vs. Pittsburgh, Kansas City vs. Oakland, the Giants vs. Baltimore and so on. Until then, this week's rankings:

1Minnesota Vikings
last week: 2
record: 5–0

Since the NFL changed to a 16-game schedule for the 1978 season, only a small handful of teams have allowed fewer than 200 points in a single year—the last team to do it was the 2002 Super Bowl champion Bucs. Five games into this season, the Vikings are on pace to give up 201 points this year. They’re trending toward having not just a great defense, but having a historically great defense.

2New England Patriots
last week: 3
record: 4–1
3Atlanta Falcons
last week: 11
record: 4–1
4Pittsburgh Steelers
last week: 5
record: 4–1

Everything fell nicely into place for the Steelers over the past two weeks: Baltimore lost twice, Cincinnati dropped to 2–3, Cleveland ... is still in the AFC North, and the Steelers themselves knocked off two conference foes in the Chiefs and reeling Jets. Traverse a trip to Miami this week and Pittsburgh sets up a huge Week 7 showdown vs. New England.

5Denver Broncos
last week: 1
record: 4–1

“With the way we play defense,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said last week, “if we’re able to run the ball, it makes us a good football team on Sunday.” The key word in there being “if.” The Broncos can’t run the ball right now (84 yards on 24 carries Sunday), and the lack of offensive balance caught up to them against Atlanta.

6Dallas Cowboys
last week: 9
record: 4–1
7Seattle Seahawks
last week: 6
record: 3–1

An early bye week can make later portions of the schedule all the more grueling, but Seattle needed to get Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett healthy. The Rams losing during the Seahawks’ time off was an added bonus. The NFC West is theirs to lose now, even more so than it was before.

8Green Bay Packers
last week: 7
record: 3–1
9Oakland Raiders
last week: 10
record: 4–1

The Raiders’ four wins have come by a total of 12 points, against teams with a combined record of 7–12. Does that mean they’re taking care of business or that they’re benefiting from a favorable schedule? Something tells me a franchise riding a 13-year playoff drought won’t bother nitpicking the details.

10Philadelphia Eagles
last week: 4
record: 3–1
11Buffalo Bills
last week: 12
record: 3–2

Expectations have returned for the Bills, who really should move to 5–2 considering how their next two opponents (San Francisco and Miami) have been playing. And if they make that happen, might we request someone strap a microphone to Rex Ryan for the entire week leading up to Buffalo’s Week 8 rematch with New England?

12Kansas City Chiefs
last week: 13
record: 2–2
13Cincinnati Bengals
last week: 8
record: 2–3

Marvin Lewis has avoided the unemployment line despite a string of playoff failures. A disappointing regular season could be the end, though. With Cincinnati headed to New England this week, and thus staring a 2–4 start in the face, Lewis’s seat has be a little uncomfortable.

14Washington Redskins
last week: 18
record: 3–2
15Arizona Cardinals
last week: 20
record: 2–3

According to Sports Media Watch, Week 5’s Drew Stanton-Blaine Gabbert horror film drew the second-lowest audience for a prime-time NFL game over the past five seasons (it moved to third-lowest after Monday’s Carolina-Tampa Bay game). The Cardinals simply have not given folks much reason to pay attention yet this season. But there’s still time.

16Los Angeles Rams
last week: 15
record: 3–2

While the Rams filed for relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles back on Jan. 4, the move was not completely official until Jeff Fisher faked a punt from his own territory late in the fourth quarter Sunday. Now, L.A. fans can feel free to settle in for the full Rams experience.

17Houston Texans
last week: 14
record: 3–2

Perhaps like Sisyphus, doomed to roll a boulder uphill for all eternity, Bill O’Brien is just never going to have a great offense in Houston. It’s far too soon to call the Brock Osweiler signing a complete bust, but put it this way: If the Texans had purchased him at a store, they would be scrambling through the trash making sure they still had the receipt.

18Detroit Lions
last week: 30
record: 2–3
19Baltimore Ravens
last week: 16
record: 3–2

Speaking of Jim Caldwell, the last time the Ravens fired their offensive coordinator in the middle of a season, Caldwell took over the job and Baltimore later won a Super Bowl. That’s a high bar for new O.C. Marty Mornhinweg as he takes over a middling attack.

20New Orleans Saints
last week: 22
record: 1–3

The Saints play Carolina, Kansas City and Seattle in the next three weeks. So we’ll know by Halloween whether Sean Payton’s club is an unexpected playoff contender or a challenger for the 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick.

21Tennessee Titans
last week: 28
record: 2–3

That the Titans are starting to look like a real AFC South threat may say as much about that division as it does the team itself. But DeMarco Murray quietly stands No. 2 in the league in yards rushing, while the defense just put the clamps on Miami. Up next: three games in 11 days, all at home, all winnable (Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville).

22Tampa Bay Buccaneers
last week: 24
record: 2–3
23San Diego Chargers
last week: 23
record: 1–4

Having a hard time moving the Chargers down in the rankings because they have a dynamic offense (No. 2 in points) and are extremely competitive each week. Also can’t move them up because their fourth-quarter performances come with all the composure of a stressed-out Nicolas Cage.

24Carolina Panthers
last week: 15
record: 1–4

With 9:28 left in a tie game Monday, Carolina RB Fozzy Whittaker ripped off a 16-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay goal line. On the next snap, the Panthers called a play-action pass for Derek Anderson. It was picked off, the Buccaneers eventually won the game and the defending NFC champions are on life support headed into Week 6.

25Indianapolis Colts
last week: 27
record: 2–3

On Sunday, when the struggling Colts barely beat the Bears, Frank Gore passed Jim Brown for ninth place all-time in yards rushing, and he should catch Tony Dorsett for eighth by season’s end. In an era where teams are afraid to commit to running backs for fear of fragility, Gore, 33, remains has remained a durable and productive player. At no point during his career has he been considered he best back in football, but few in history can match the impressive longevity of his career. When he finally does call it quits, chances are only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders will have produced more career yards on the ground.

26New York Giants
last week: 21
record: 2–3

There are some bad units in football: Cleveland’s defense, San Francisco’s offense, Miami’s entire way of doing everything. But the Giants’ offense might be the most disappointing. The offensive line is still a mess and, somehow, New York has been unable to scheme ways for Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard to get open.

27Jacksonville Jaguars
last week: 26
record: 1–3

Did Jacksonville’s Week 4 win over Indianapolis turn the team’s momentum or just prolong the inevitable collapse? For it to be the former, the Jaguars have to figure out how to win on the road. They’re just 1-16 away from home since 2014, but play five of their next seven outside in unfriendly confines. We'll see what they do in Chicago, coming off of last week's bye.

28New York Jets
last week: 19
record: 1–4

The Jets’ schedule this season always stood as a challenge. But by playing the way they have, they left themselves no chance of weathering the storm. A more manageable finishing stretch only goes so far if the Jets have to win their final 10 games to reach the playoffs.

29Chicago Bears
last week: 29
record: 1–4
30Miami Dolphins
last week: 25
record: 1–4

First-round pick Laremy Tunsil was inactive Sunday because he hurt his ankle slipping in the shower, so ... that’s how things are going in Miami. The Dolphins currently have the league’s worst rushing defense and its second-worst rushing offense. This is a mess.

31Cleveland Browns
last week: 31
record: 0–5

Promising rookie quarterback Cody Kessler left Sunday’s game with an injury. So did his backup, Charlie Whitehurst, the fourth Browns quarterback this season. And while it was fun then to see Terrelle Pryor taking snaps, there had to be Cleveland fans begging Hue Jackson just to get Pryor out of the QB role before he got struck by lightning or somehow stepped on a rattlesnake.

32San Francisco 49ers
last week: 32
record: 1–4

It’s finally Colin Kaepernick time for Chip Kelly’s 49ers, which just as importantly means that it’s no longer Blaine Gabbert time. Who knows if this will be any better in the short- or long-term, but it can’t be any worse.

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