(NOTE: Rankings are considered by wins and losses, margins of victory and defeat, quality of opposition, and recent record trends)
1. Atlanta (6-0) (Last week: 1)
No matter how bad Houston thrashed the Ravens, the Falcons keep their seat at the mountain’s peak. The Falcons are averaging 292.7 passing yards a game on offense. Only 3 NFL teams give up 300 yards or more on average, and the Falcons get to play 2 of them twice: New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
2. Houston (6-1) (Last week: 2)
Choose the more impressive stat: Houston scoring 43 points, which is their highest total in franchise history (scored 42 in a 2007 game), or beating the Ravens by 30, which is only the third time Baltimore has lost by 30+ points since the move from Cleveland in 1996 (and first time since 2007 also).
3. San Francisco (5-2) (Last week: 4)
A victory over Seattle keyed by their defense, as well as their second half running, managed to wipe some of that egg off of San Fran’s face after the one-sided Giants loss. So much for Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James crowding the backfield: Frank Gore is fifth in the league with 601 rushing yards.
4. Chicago (5-1) (Last week: 5)
As impressive as 5-1 sounds, their opponents combined winning percentage is 38.7 (12-19), and no beaten foe is currently above .500 (Colts and Cowboys are both 3-3). Still, the defense has forced 21 turnovers in 6 games (14 INT, 7 fumble recoveries), and it’s doubtful that Carolina will halt that.
5. New York Giants (5-2) (Last week: 6)
Despite giving up 248 yards on the ground to the Redskins (the most New York has given up since September 2009 in one game), the G-Men recovered 3 fumbles at crucial junctures, after Washington had only 1 lost fumble all year. Next up: revenge on Dallas for the season-opening loss?
6. Baltimore (5-2) (Last week: 3)
They’re one of only 3 teams in the AFC that currently has a winning record, but even their title hopes are shaky after that mauling in Houston on Sunday. Combined record of teams that Baltimore has beaten: 13-22 (37.1 percent). Combined record of teams they’ve lost to: 9-4 (69.2 percent).
7. New England (4-3) (Last week: 7)
Tom Brady had 27 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career before Sunday, and it took a restoration of that classic magic to ensure Devin McCourty’s lost fumble didn’t doom his team at home vs. the Jets. The final drive in regulation saw Brady go 4/5 for 54 yards to set up the tying field goal.
8. Green Bay (4-3) (Last week: 9)
Good news: in 2 straight weeks, the Packers have made fools of 2 of the NFL’s tightest defenses, scoring 42 on Houston (allowing 18.3 PPG) and 30 on St. Louis (allowing 20.1 PPG). Bad news: Dom Capers’ defense has allowed 25.3 PPG over the last 4 games, despite going 3-1 over that stretch.
9. Minnesota (5-2) (Last week: 11)
Besides their win over San Francisco, are the Vikings merely a squad that beats bad teams? Defeating Arizona on a downswing for their third straight loss (with John Skelton starting) isn’t all that impressive. Minnesota’s a hard team to figure out as Christian Ponder (6 INT in 3 weeks) drifts toward the mean.
10. Seattle (4-3) (Last week: 8)
For the fifth time this season, Russell Wilson failed to clear 200 yards passing, managing just a paltry 122 yards on 9 of 23 passing (39.1 percent). Their next opponents are Detroit (210.5 YPG passing allowed) and Minnesota (219.4 YPG allowed), so hopefully for Seattle, their excellent defense does its part.
11. Arizona (4-3) (Last week: 10)
The Thursday night loss to St. Louis a few weeks back began their current 3 game skid, which has seen the Cardinals fail to score more than 16 points in the trifecta of losses. Over their first 4 wins, Arizona never scored less than 20. Opponents are averaging 165.5 YPG rushing over the last 2 weeks.
12. Pittsburgh (3-3) (Last week: 15)
These Steel City schizoids have failed to produce any kind of streak this season, going loss-win-loss-win-loss-win. Logical stat: Pittsburgh is 0-3 when they’ve given up 300+ yard of offense (338 YPG), but 3-0 when they hold the opponent under 300 (216.7 PPG). In other words, there’s no middle ground.
13. Denver (3-3) (Last week: 12)
Peyton Manning gets a high-profile rematch with Super Bowl XLIV nemesis Drew Brees, after watching the Saints annihilate his ex-Colts 62-7 a year ago. Manning’s averaging 301.3 passing YPG, and there’s still some bad pass defenses left on his schedule, including the Saints, Panthers, Raiders, and Chiefs.
14. Philadelphia (3-3) (Last week: 13)
The Eagles are 13-0 after a bye under Andy Reid (not counting losing Super Bowl XXIX after a week off). This time, they’re facing the 6-0 Falcons, who are also coming off an idle 7 days. Todd Bowles makes his debut as defensive coordinator, so expect Nnamdi Asomugha to still cover Roddy White into the fourth.
15. San Diego (3-3) (Last week: 14)
First 4 games: 3-1, 25 PPG, allowed 17.6 PPG, average of 1.5 giveaways per game. Last 2 games before the bye: 0-2, 24 PPG, allowed 33 PPG, turned the ball over an average of 4 times over those games. Even more alarming, Philip Rivers is almost halfway to having as many picks this year (9) as last year (20).
16. Dallas (3-3) (Last week: 21)
Credit where credit is due to Tony Romo. After losing center Phil Costa to injury against Carolina, and without much of a running game, the signal-caller avoided sacks and turnovers en route to a solid second half (12/18, 129 yards and a touchdown) to lead the Cowboys back to .500.
17. St. Louis (3-4) (Last week: 16)
The Rams are 1-2 over their last 3 games, despite holding opponents to an average of 50.3 YPG rushing, and never more than 70 yards in any game. Yet after averaging 27 PPG over their first 2 games, they’ve averaged only 15.2 PPG since, and will face a high-powered Patriots team before getting a bye.
18. New York Jets (3-4) (Last week: 17)
The Jets came oh so close to winning in Foxborough for the second time since Rex Ryan took the Gang Green helm, but the Patriots’ late-game heroics ended that quest. Since the shutout against the Niners, New York has averaged 26 PPG over the last 3 games, and can still do damage in a weak AFC.
19. Washington (3-4) (Last week: 18)
The Redskins had 2 turnovers over their first 4 games (2-2), but 7 over their last 3 (1-2). Their 177.7 rushing yards per game leads the NFL, but the defense is allowing a league-worst 328.4 passing yards per game, forcing Washington to abandon their expert running late to try and regain leads.
20. Miami (3-3) (Last week: 19)
The right to chase New England most closely for the division crown could come down to the Dolphins-Jets matchup on Sunday. A loss at MetLife will put the Dolphins 0-2 in the division (they lost to New York in Week 3), and could play a costly role for a possible playoff spot come December.
21. Indianapolis (3-3) (Last week: 25)
The 3 wins are by a combined 10 points, but the 3 losses add up to 51 points. It’s still going to be a while before the Colts have their act together (third worst passer rating, fourth worst defensive passer rating), but how’s this for a quaint stat: Reggie Wayne leads the NFL in receiving yards a game with 111.0.
22. Tennessee (3-4) (Last week: 26)
Hallelujah, CJ2K is risen! Yes, I realize Buffalo has a run defense made of balsa wood, but Chris Johnson built on his 91 yards against Pittsburgh with 195 yards and 2 TD against the Bills. That brings his YPA average to 4.51 for the season, with shaky D’s like Indianapolis and Jacksonville yet to come.
23. Buffalo (3-4) (Last week: 20)
In their 3 victories, the Bills haven’t given up more than 17 points to opponents. Over their 4 losses, Buffalo has given up a minimum of 35 points, topping out with 52 from the Patriots. It doesn’t help the Bills’ chances that they’ve given up 150 or more rushing yards in 5 out of their last 6 games.
24. Cincinnati (3-4) (Last week: 22)
They had a chance to put Pittsburgh away early, up 14-6 before the half, and go into their bye with a winning record, but Andy Dalton’s bad pass that was picked by LaMarr Woodley changed everything. Of the Bengals 4 losses, 3 of them are against each of their division rivals.
25. Detroit (3-4) (Last week: 23)
The Windy City hasn’t been a friendly place for the Lions this past year; they’ve turned the ball over 10 times in their last 2 games in Chicago, including 4 on Monday. That total includes 3 lost fumbles for the feisty Bears defense. The Lions gave up 171 rushing yards, their most since Week 14 last season.
26. New Orleans (2-4) (Last week: 28)
In the Saints’ 6 games so far, neither they, nor their opponents, have scored less than 24 points in any given game. As Joe Vitt takes over from Aaron Kromer, the high-scoring shootouts could continue through the end of November, as only 2 opponents (Eagles and Raiders) struggle on offense.
27. Oakland (2-4) (Last week: 30)
The overtime victory over the Jaguars comes during a four-game stretch where the Raiders have held opponents to below 60 yards rushing in 3 out of the 4 games. Despite the improvement in stonewalling, Oakland has their own running problems. Darren McFadden has only topped 100 yards once this year.
28. Tampa Bay (2-4) (Last week: 24)
Forget the out-of-bounds penalty that cost the Buccaneers the game vs. New Orleans, inane as the rule may be. Tampa Bay had the Saints pinned 21-7 and gave up 4 straight touchdowns as Drew Brees cut their pass defense to ribbons. That’s 3 times this year Tampa has given up 400+ yards of offense.
29. Carolina (1-5) (Last week: 27)
Maybe Warren Moon’s right when he says the onus shouldn’t be entirely on Cam Newton’s shoulders for the Panthers’ disappointments. Is it his fault that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, combined, average 65 rushing yards a game, or that the D has produced just 7 turnovers?
30. Cleveland (1-6) (Last week: 29)
Josh Gordon’s ‘lose-it-in-the-sun’ missed catch sums up the Browns’ close-but-no-cigar season. 4 of their 6 losses are by a touchdown or less, and Brandon Weeden has looked great over his last 3 games (64/105, 786 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT, 91.2 passer rating), but the wins just aren’t there.
31. Jacksonville (1-5) (Last week: 31)
Maurice Jones-Drew and Laurent Robinson look to be out long term, while Blaine Gabbert and Rashean Mathis are facing some possible missed time as well. It’s just as well, since the Jags have lost 3 of their games by 17 or more points, and they average a league-low 14.7 PPG as it is.
32. Kansas City (1-5) (Last week: 32)
Brady Quinn looks to be Romeo Crennel’s man going forward, and he’s tasked with piloting a team that has nothing going for it except a damn good running attack (164 YPG). After a home game against the lousy Raiders, the Chiefs must travel to San Diego and Pittsburgh. Ain’t looking too good.