NFL power rankings: This is what parity looks like

Shutdown Corner

There is, as we speak, a better than 40 percent chance that your favorite NFL team has exactly three wins. If that team is in the AFC, that chance goes up to 56 percent. Right now in the NFL, there's a few really good teams, a few really bad teams, and in the middle, one of those giant cartoon cloud of humanity with random arms and legs sticking out. Differentiating one from the other is near impossible.

And yet, we still try. There are no ties in the Power Rankings. We dig into that giant cartoon pile, pull everyone out, and organize them into a handy chart. The biggest movers this week on the positive side are the Saints, Cowboys and Titans. Nose-diving are the Cardinals (again), Browns, Ravens and especially, the Bills.

1. Atlanta Falcons (6-0)
Last week: 1

Off this week. As the only undefeated team remaining, they deserve our No. 1 spot.

2. Houston Texans (6-1)
Last week: 3
Blown out one week, then they blow someone out the next. Man, this league makes no sense. I guess that's what an NFL season is — every team plays a bunch of games, and then it's your job to figure out which results mean something, and which are a fluke or the result of some other reality-bending circumstance. In the case of the Texans, I'm going with the blowout at the hands of Green Bay as a fluke. There's more evidence supporting the Texans as an elite team, capable of stomping the life out of the limping Ravens.

3. New York Giants (5-2)
Last week: 2

I feel like most teams would've been beaten by that effort from the Washington RGIIIs, so credit to the Giants for sticking around and pulling out a W. That said, let's not go overboard in kneeling at the feet of Eli Manning for being clutch. It was a good read and a good throw, but more than anything else, that was a bust by the Redskins. Safety Madieu Williams guessed wrong on a route and paved Cruz a yellow-brick road to the end zone.

4. Chicago Bears (5-1)
Last week: 5

Jay Cutler wasn't very good against the Lions, and still, the game was never really in doubt. In fact, Cutler's only been good in two or three games this season, and still, the Bears cruise along behind that swarming, nasty defense. It also helps that their opponents on Monday night wanted desperately to give them the football in the red zone, but that's no accident, either ‒ the Bears defense is ferocious and left Matthew Stafford nowhere to go time and time again.

5. San Francisco 49ers (5-2)
Last week: 6

The Seahawks made them work for it on Thursday night, but the 49ers are well-equipped for a game in which there were not 300 yards of passing combined. That's Jim Harbaugh's kind of party. The 49ers became the first team to rush for 100 yards against Seattle, with Frank Gore getting 131 of their 175. Maybe they didn't have a choice, but they attacked Seattle's strength, and they took it to them.

6. New England Patriots (4-3)
Last week: 7

The people of New England realize that wins are still a good thing, right? Maybe a three-point margin of victory isn't what everyone had in mind for a home game against the Jets, but wins are wins. Exactly three teams in the AFC have winning records right now, and the Patriots are one of them. The Jets save their best shot for the Patriots twice a year. Maybe you'd rather not make Mark Sanchez look like Dan Marino, but what, you expected to magically have a dominant secondary this week?

7. Green Bay Packers (4-3)
Last week: 8

The loss of Charles Woodson for at least four weeks is devastating, and it's a setback the Packers don't need just as they're finding their groove. The silver lining? The groove's been found because Aaron Rodgers has shifted his game from pretty good to mind-blowing, and if he keeps putting up QB ratings in the 130s, the Pack could go with 10 men on defense and still win most of their games.

8. Denver Broncos (3-3)
Last week: 9

Off this week.

9. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Last week: 4

Oof. That was a good old-fashioned kick to the pancreas. And as convenient as it would be to say "Welcome to life without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb," and just conclude that the Ravens are garbage now, I don't see things unfolding that way. They got clobbered. They'll recover. This was a highly motivated Texans team, at home, coming off a humiliation of their own. Sometimes things just snowball. The Ravens defense is not what it was five years ago, and it's not going to be. But they're still head and shoulders above anyone else in the AFC North.

10. Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
Last week: 11

They fought hard in San Francisco, but it's always going to be an uphill battle when you're the 31st-ranked passing team playing against the top-ranked pass defense. Still, Seattle sits at 4-3, undefeated at home, with more home games left than road games. A playoff spot seems pretty likely if they just beat the teams they should beat.

11. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
Last week: 12

When a quarterback goes 8 of 17 for 58 yards and two interceptions, and his team still wins, it tells you two things: One, that team isn't relying on their quarterback for much offensive output, and two, they were probably playing the Cardinals. It also helps that Adrian Peterson is apparently some kind of cyborg with his superhuman recovery from that knee injury. He's getting more than 4.5 yards per carry in each of his last four games.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
Last week: 10
Off this week.

13. San Diego Chargers (3-3)
Last week: 15
Off this week.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)
Last week: 14
It wasn't the kind of victory that will make anyone say, "Hey, the Steelers are back!", but it didn't have to be ‒ they were on the road against a solid and hungry Bengals team. Wins are wins, and this one keeps the Steelers alive, at least for a Wild Card, and probably in the division, too, as the Ravens appear to be hurting. The more the injuries pile up, the easier it is to appreciate Ben Roethlisberger as a quarterback and leader. The defense has been hurting, the offensive line, as usual, is hurting, running backs are dropping like flies, but with Roethlisberger, it's still never going to be easy for an opposing defense.

15. Washington Redskins (3-4)
Last week: 16

How loveable would these Redskins be if they weren't the Redskins? They're underdogs in a division with heavyweights like the Giants and Eagles, and Robert Griffin III is as dynamic and magnetic a rookie that has ever existed. Unfortunately, the Redskins are also one of the league's more obnoxious franchises, featuring an unlikable owner, a history of Yankee-like free-agent spending, and a large and vocal fan base. RGIII makes the Redskins like one of those ridiculous damn towing shows on truTV. I can't say I like it, but once it's on my TV, it's probably staying there until the end.

16. Miami Dolphins (3-3)
Last week: 13

Off this week.

17. New York Jets (3-4)
Last week: 17

The real test for the Jets is whether or not they can bring the same effort against the Dolphins that they did against the Patriots. They can beat the Patriots, but most of the time, they won't, and chances are that the Patriots will win that division and everyone else will fight for a Wild Card. And that's fine. That's about the Jets' ceiling. And in that race, a game against the Dolphins is far more important. It's not as sexy as a game against the Patriots, but they need this one against Miami more.

18. Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
Last week: 22
Another team at the very popular record of 3-3, the Cowboys needed that win against Carolina. It was underwhelming and featured a Dez Bryant drop in the end zone, so it was pretty standard fare for the Cowboys. But, like so many other undistinguished teams in the league, they still have a chance to put themselves in a good position. They get the Giants at home this week and if they can complete the season sweep of Big Blue, they'll be, remarkably, sitting pretty.

19. St. Louis Rams (3-4)
Last week: 20

It's just good to see the Rams competing. I don't think they'll finish at or better than .500 this season, but at least they're no longer miserable. They're not an easy out anymore, which is really pretty encouraging, considering how much room they have to improve the roster. They started two offensive linemen this week who had never started a game before. And they were competitive. They should be that the rest of the way.

20. New Orleans Saints (2-4)
Last week: 25

The good news? The Saints are on a two-game win streak. The bad news? They're still four games back of Atlanta in the NFC South race, after just seven weeks. As far as the Wild Card race goes, that's still feasible, but the schedule isn't kind. In their next seven games, they'll probably only be favored once, and that's at Oakland. The others are at Denver, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco, at Atlanta, and at NYG. They can get back in it, but they'll have to beat some good teams despite their terrible, terrible defense.

21. Detroit Lions (2-4)
Last week: 21
After the loss to the Bears, Jim Schwartz said the two teams were "evenly matched." Jim Schwartz also believes that Detroit and Paris are "pretty much even" as tourist destinations. The Lions are at the bottom of a stacked division and will be fighting uphill the rest of the way. If Schwartz is right, and these two teams are evenly matched, and yet the Bears have a three-game lead over the Lions … what's that say about Jim Schwartz?

22. Tennessee Titans (3-4)
Last week: 26

Enjoying a two-game win streak after being blown out four times in five weeks, the question has to be asked: Should Matt Hasselbeck keep his starting job even when Jake Locker is healthy? Just something to think about. Meanwhile, the Titans game this coming week against Indy is kind of a big game, in a small sort of way. The winner will be .500 or a game above, and in the AFC, that just about makes you royalty.

23. Arizona Cardinals (4-3)
Last week: 19

Not only are they the lowest-ranked team with a winning record ‒ they're 11 spots behind the closest team with a winning record. I feel bad about this, but that's what happens when your season consists of a four-game winning streak, then a three-game losing streak. The news gets worse, too ‒ their next three are against the 49ers, Packers and Falcons.

24. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)
Last week: 24

That had the feeling of a "had to have" game, but a look at the standings says maybe it wasn't. In the AFC, 3-4 isn't a terrible place to be, because that's where pretty much everyone else is. There's still all kinds of time to get back in the Wild Card race. What makes the loss hurt, though, is the upcoming schedule. After a bye, the Bengals get the Broncos and Giants, and they'll have to beat one of them to avoid a five-game losing streak that would essentially kill their playoff chances.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)
Last week: 23

Oh, Bucs. If these power rankings were for delightful uniforms, you and your Creamsicle dreams would be ranked first all day long. Unfortunately, there's a football team under those things, and it's not very good. Josh Freeman's put together two good games in a row, though, which is good to see. Playing the Chiefs and Saints seems to agree with him.

26. Indianapolis Colts (3-3)
Last week: 29
I'm not sure if it's a tribute to the quality of the Colts, or if the value of a 3-3 record is just at an all-time low, but here we are, talking about the Colts as a potential playoff team. I wouldn't bet on that coming to pass, but they do have three wins and seven games left you'd consider winnable: Tennessee twice, Miami, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Detroit, and Kansas City. This season is so weird.

27. Buffalo Bills (3-4)
Last week: 18

I'm no football genius, but my contention is that if you spend $100 million on a defensive player in the offseason, you should not go on to be the 31st-best defense in the league. Remember how awesome that defensive line was going to be? I certainly thought it was. But somehow, the Bills have gotten worse. They gave up 371 yards a game last year. This year, they're giving up 424. When do we start calling Mario Williams "Albert Haynesworth II"?

28. Oakland Raiders (2-4)
Last week: 28

The optimistic theory about the Raiders is that their true identity is the team that took Atlanta down to the wire ‒ not the team that needed overtime to beat Jacksonville. They played well against Atlanta, but lost a close one, so maybe it was difficult to get up emotionally for a game against the Jaguars. So they came out flat and Jacksonville jumped out to a big lead until the Raiders woke themselves up and played how they're supposed to play. The alternate theory is that the Raiders played above their heads against Atlanta, but are, in reality, in Jacksonville's class. Their ranking here illustrates my stance.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (1-5)
Last week: 31

Off this week.

30. Carolina Panthers (1-5)
Last week: 30

It seems like Cam Newton's taking a lot of heat for what basically amounts to being sad after a loss. Blast him for his numbers being down from last year. Blast him for being the leader of a 1-5 team. But the man's a competitor, and his team has lost three straight games by five points or fewer. Maybe we'd all prefer if he was a little less mopey, but remember how young he is. I'm sorry if he's not yet able to manipulate the media like 35-year-old Tom Brady or 36-year-old Peyton Manning. Newton is 22. It's his second year in the league, and one of those years was historically good. Maybe some patience and support wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

31. Cleveland Browns (1-6)
Last week: 27

Look, everyone! We found a team that couldn't run the ball against the Colts! I didn't think that team was out there. And sure, Trent Richardson had a rib injury, but the Browns didn't even bother trying much with anyone else. In the end, they lost a highly-competitive pillow fight to the Colts, despite a quality performance from Brandon Weeden. He had 264 yards and two touchdowns, but it should've been one more touchdown, and how many yards was it, Josh Gordon? Forty-one?

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5)
Last week: 32
Do days get any worse than that for an NFL franchise? The Jags blew a 14-point lead to the Raiders, and lost both their quarterback and star running back to injury. How could that day have been worse? The franchise being sold to Donald Sterling, maybe? Jaxson De Ville being discovered as a secret Al-Qaeda operative and terrorist mastermind? Norv Turner being given a lifetime contract as your head coach?

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