By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts rankologist
Being top dog in the Cold, Hard Football Facts Power Rankings is nothing new for the Houston Texans. After they're finished with the defensively inept Buffalo Bills in Week 9, a third straight week at No. 1 seems like a given.
On second thought, the sheriff might have something to say about that.
Peyton Manning out-dueled Drew Brees at Mile High Sunday night, and the Broncos jumped four spots to No. 2 as a result. Manning has at least 300 yards passing in each of his last five games and three touchdowns in each of his last four.
The one concern regarding Denver's ownership of the No. 2 spot, aside from a seemingly mediocre 4-3 record, is their struggles against quality opponents. The Broncos are 1-3 in such games, defeating the 4-3 Steelers but losing to the 7-0 Falcons, 6-1 Texans and 5-3 Patriots.
Fortunately for them, only one of Denver's final nine opponents currently boast a winning record. Six of them rank No. 22 or worse in the Power Rankings. In other words, it looks like smooth sailing from here on out.
1. Houston Texans (6-1) - The Bills are No. 30 in Bendability, and Houston is No. 1 in Scoreability. With four of the Texans' six wins coming by at least 20 points, one has to wonder if they can actually improve upon the 29-3 halftime lead they held over the Ravens in Week 7. It really could get that ugly.
2. Denver Broncos (4-3) - The Broncos are No. 1 in Real Quarterback Rating (101.73), a full five points ahead of the No. 2 Patriots (96.55) and almost 30 points ahead of where they finished in 2011 (71.75). Manning's current league-leading passer rating (109.0) is the second-highest total of his career.
3. Atlanta Falcons (7-0) - As crazy as it sounds, Atlanta's chances of being 13-0 when they host the defending champs in Week 15 are scary good. Including the 6-2 Giants, the Falcons' remaining opponents are currently a combined 27-38 overall.
4. San Francisco 49ers (6-2) - Not only did Alex Smith best his 156.3 passer rating from Week 5, he did it (157.1) against a Cardinals' defense that came into Monday night as the No. 2 team in Defensive Passer Rating.
5. New York Giants (6-2) - The champs are three wins shy of their 2011 total just eight games into the season, and every other NFC East squad is under .500. Meaning, nine wins would probably take the division for a second straight year if it came down to it.
6. Green Bay Packers (5-3) - Aaron Rodgers has 18 touchdown passes in his last five games despite Greg Jennings only playing in one of them. The Pack are still No. 1 in Offensive Passer Rating as well. Is it safe to say he's still the MVP?
7. Chicago Bears (6-1) - Besides Houston, Chicago was the only team in the top 25 that didn't move up or down the rankings in Week 8. Their inability to move the ball up and down the field almost cost the Bears a win against Cam Newton and the 1-6 Panthers, who held a 19-7 lead after three quarters at Soldier Field.
8. New England Patriots (5-3) - New England let The Gronk loose in London, and it was St. Louis who paid dearly for it. Rob Gronkowski went for 146 yards and two TDs in a 45-7 romp over the Rams. The Pats moved up six spots to No. 5 in Scoreability as a result.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) - Sliding up four spots, Tampa's 36-17 road win over the Vikings proved to be their strongest showing of the year. Josh Freeman has nine touchdowns in the Bucs' last three games and a passer rating of over 100 in each of them.
10. Seattle Seahawks (4-4) - Seattle's defense could only bend for so long before eventually springing a leak. Matthew Stafford's four total TDs helped drop the Seahawks to 4-4 and straight out of the top five in Bendability.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) - Suddenly the Steelers are over .500 and closing in on the top 10. With a win and a Ravens' loss in Week 9, Pittsburgh will join Baltimore atop the AFC North.
12. Miami Dolphins (4-3) - It's all about defense for the Dolphins, who've only allowed 36 total points in their last three games—all wins. Miami is No. 1 in our Defensive Hog Index and No. 3 in Bendability.
13. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) - Baltimore doesn't rank higher than No. 10 in any Quality Stat. Two games against the Steelers in a three-week span lies ahead, but the Ravens have to avoid overlooking the Browns and Raiders first.
14. Minnesota Vikings (5-3) - With the way the Bears and Packers are playing, Minnesota can't afford any more slip-ups like the one against Tampa. It sent the Vikings shooting down from the No. 8 spot and they dropped six spots in the Defensive Hog Index as well.
15. Arizona Cardinals (4-4) - Four straight losses. Four more sacks allowed. The offense is No. 32 in Rushing Yards per Attempt and No. 31 in Negative Pass Play Percentage. Despair is spreading in the desert, that's for sure.
16. Washington Redskins (3-5) - Washington is giving up 28.4 points per game, which makes it tough to win even when Robert Griffin III plays out of his mind, which is nearly every week. RGIII finally had an off day against Pittsburgh Sunday, and the Skins never had a chance to get in the game.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) - We figured the Eagles' bad turnover habit would catch up to them, and it did. What's worse is Philly didn't give the ball away once in Week 8, yet allowed 30 points in a game for the first time all year.
18. Dallas Cowboys (3-4) - No matter how close the finish may have been, Dallas let a prime opportunity to sweep the Giants slip out of their grasp. The Cowboys only win since Week 3 came against the Panthers, and they needed a fourth-quarter comeback just to get that done.
19. Detroit Lions (3-4) - With six of their nine remaining opponents boasting a record of 5-3 or better, it's a good thing Stafford and the Lions' offense woke up before it was too late. Considering that all three of their NFC North foes are in that group, too late might have been two weeks ago.
20. New York Jets (3-5) - The Jets were looking like a competitive ball club for a couple of weeks there. Dropping a home game to the Dolphins by the score of 30-9 is going to be a tough pill to swallow. though. At least the performance was enough to get them out of last in the Defensive Hog Index.
21. New Orleans Saints (2-5) - The way things are shaping up, double-digit wins will be a must to secure an NFC wild card spot in January. With two meetings against the undefeated Falcons left in addition to games against the 49ers and Giants, it's hard to imagine New Orleans only losing just one game the rest of the way.
22. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) - With games against the Broncos and Giants up next, could the Bengals losing streak extend to five games? Cincy's three wins did come against teams with a combined 5-17 record. Things could get ugly.
23. Carolina Panthers (1-6) - It's shocking to think that, after seven games in 2012, the Panthers are already six games out of first in the NFC South. Better luck next year, eh?
24. San Diego Chargers (3-4) - Like the Eagles and Bengals, San Diego's three game losing streak has flipped a 3-1 start upside down in a hurry. The Chargers couldn't even manage a touchdown in a 7-6 loss to the Browns Sunday. One has to wonder how many chances Norv Turner is going to get.
25. St. Louis Rams (3-5) - The final of four NFL teams with three straight losses, St. Louis dropped from No. 5 to No. 19 in Defensive Passer Rating after encountering Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks. All that early season excitement sure is fading fast.
26a. Buffalo Bills (3-4) - Consecutive road games against Houston and New England serve as a devastating way to come off a bye week. The Bills are No. 31 in The Relativity Index and No. 30 in the Defensive Hog Index.
26b. Cleveland Browns (2-6) - The Browns have moved up from No. 26 to No. 14 in Defensive Passer Rating since Joe Haden returned from suspension, but are still at No. 31 in Offensive Passer Rating.
28. Oakland Raiders (3-4) - Oakland two-game winning streak is a result of defeating a pair of 1-6 teams, but hey, wins are wins at this point. The schedule doesn't get much tougher from here on out, either. Are the Raiders on to something?
29. Tennessee Titans (3-5) - The Titans came an overtime away from turning around a 1-4 start in a big way. Instead, they're 3-5 with the Bears coming to town this weekend.
30. Indianapolis Colts (4-3) - Indy isn't winning by much, but they're winning. With games against the Jaguars, Bills, Titans and Chiefs in the second half, an 8-8 season doesn't seem so far-fetched.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) - The Jaguars have a relatively friendly second-half schedule as well, but what they lack is the wins to convince us they'll take advantage of it. Maurice Jones-Drew won't be back anytime soon, and Blaine Gabbert's 49 pass attempts Sunday only produced a single TD.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6) - It's actually kind of amazing how much of a mess the Chiefs are right now. KC is No. 32 in Scoreability, Bendability, Real Quarterback Rating, Offensive Passer Rating, Passer Rating Differential and The Relativity Index. That's a whole lot of bad news.