Shutdown Corner NFL Power Rankings: Who gets the No. 1 spot?

(AP)
(AP)

Does September count in the NFL? That’s the question we need to ask in figuring out the top team this week.

The Denver Broncos are still the best team in the NFL from the start of the season to now (yes, we hear you Arizona Cardinals fans). The Broncos were smothered by the New England Patriots on Sunday. They also didn’t get blown out by the Miami Dolphins or Kansas City Chiefs, as New England did. Nor did they almost lose at home to the Oakland Raiders or New York Jets (combined record: 1-16) as the Patriots did earlier this season. The Broncos' losses are to Seattle and New England on the road. No shame in that. If you're the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee, you'd probably give the Broncos the top overall seed based on their overall body of work.

The New England Patriots are the best team in the NFL from the start of October. They were absolutely dominant against the Broncos, as they’ve mostly been since that loss at Kansas City. But let’s not take revisionist history too far. Everyone looks really smart today, with more than a month of hindsight. The Patriots’ problems in September were legitimate. Just because Bill Belichick has fixed them doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. The Patriots weren’t a good football team for the first month of the season. But they sure are good now.

So, again … does September count in the NFL?

Head-to-head results aren’t the only way to judge NFL teams (I’m going to predict no emails or tweets saying the Dolphins or Chiefs should be ahead of the Patriots), but they count. Everything should count. Arizona having the best record in the NFL has to be considered too, obviously.

You could make a few different and reasonable arguments for the order of the top three (and yes, we hear you, too, fans of other two-loss teams). In the end, it’s a tough call this week.

Here are the post-Week 9 power rankings:

32. Oakland Raiders (0-8, Last Week: 32)
They battled hard at Seattle. Great. Moral victories aren't going to keep them from joining the 2008 Lions, though.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7, LW: 31)
Mike Evans' breakout means this is looking like the best rookie receiver class since ... ever, right?

30. New York Jets (1-8, LW: 29)
The thing about the Percy Harvin trade is this: The best-case scenario for the Jets is he keeps playing like he did Sunday, and they keep him and pay him the $10.5 million he's due next year. Not sure he's worth that for a rebuilding team.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8, LW: 30)
For a while the Jaguars were in that game at Cincinnati. It makes the Cowboys-Jaguars contest in London interesting if Tony Romo can't play.

28. Tennessee Titans (2-6, LW: 28)
The next three games are at Baltimore, vs. Pittsburgh and at Philadelphia. So it's not getting easier.

27. Atlanta Falcons (2-6, LW: 27)
I'm a little surprised Mike Smith is still the coach after the bye week.

26. Washington Redskins (3-6, LW: 24)
Robert Griffin III looked good. Not great, but nobody should have expected that in his first game back. He was good enough to feel OK about him going forward.

25. New York Giants (3-5, LW: 23)
Been a long time since they've beaten a good team.

24. Minnesota Vikings (4-5, LW: 26)
Teddy Bridgewater has shown he doesn't get rattled in pressure situations. The last two weeks, he has led two late fourth-quarter drives that led to Vikings wins. That's a great sign.

23. St. Louis Rams (3-5, LW: 25)
It's not often you see a rookie play well, and get totally buried the next year just because the team drafted someone better. That's what has happened with Zac Stacy. Tre Mason is just a better back.

22. Chicago Bears (3-5, LW: 22)
They play at Green Bay on Sunday night. That's the kind of win that could turn the Bears' season back around. But, are they capable of winning there?

21. Carolina Panthers (3-5-1, LW: 19)
Too many problems, and when Cam Newton is struggling like he has been the last three games, they have no chance.

20. Houston Texans (4-5, LW: 21)
I'm not the biggest Ryan Mallett fan, but it's time to see what he has got.

19. New Orleans Saints (4-4, LW: 20)
Guys like Mark Ingram (and Denver's Ronnie Hillman, to name another) show that you never know when the light might finally turn on for a running back. I'm shocked Ingram looks this good after doing so little for three years.

18. Cleveland Browns (5-3, LW: 17)
The running game has disappeared without center Alex Mack. Don't let anyone tell you a star lineman isn't important.

17. San Francisco 49ers (4-4, LW: 14)
I don't know how they get to 10-6 with their schedule the rest of the way, and I'm not sure 9-7 gets them in the playoffs.

16. Buffalo Bills (5-3, LW: 15)
The Chiefs game at home this week is a nice test, for both teams really.

15. San Diego Chargers (5-4, LW: 8)
Hey, speaking of "Does September matter in the NFL?" ....

14. Baltimore Ravens (5-4, LW: 12)
The Ravens beat the heck out of bad teams and don't beat good ones. Is that good enough to make the playoffs? In a stacked AFC, I don't know.

13. Miami Dolphins (5-3, LW: 16)
The win over the Chargers was just ... wow. I'm not sure that's the real Dolphins, but since getting blasted by the Bills and Chiefs in Weeks 2 and 3, they've been as good as you could expect.

12. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3, LW: 18)
Another "Does September matter in the NFL?" team. Up until three weeks ago they were not good. Now they are, it appears.

11. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3, LW: 13)
I'm starting to wonder if this team is better than last year's team. They're not just getting fat on a bad schedule like last season. Since that Week 1 loss to Tennessee they have been very good.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1, LW: 11)
No need to rush Giovani Bernard back. Jeremy Hill is just fine. That's a heck of a 1-2 punch at tailback for the Bengals.

9. Detroit Lions (6-2, LW: 10)
Lions fans got mad last week because they were not higher. The truth is I don't trust them. Sorry, but the burden of proof on the Lions  not just after last year's utter collapse but the decades that precede that  is pretty high. Beating the Saints and Falcons by one point each their last couple of games doesn't erase the memory of last year.

8. Seattle Seahawks (5-3, LW: 9)
I guess a win is a win and all, but at this point they stay up here because of what we know they're capable of going back to last season. They haven't looked like a title contender since Week 1. It's in there somewhere, but it would be nice to see it soon.

7. Dallas Cowboys (6-3, LW: 5)
Here's what we learned about the Cowboys on Sunday: When they lose a top-10 quarterback they can't beat a team like the Cardinals. So they're like every other team. *shrugs*

6. Green Bay Packers (5-3, LW: 7)
Back to the Lions fan gripes, they center on the ranking of the Packers vs. the Lions. Simple answer: If they played on a neutral field tomorrow, I'd pick the Packers.

5. Indianapolis Colts (6-3, LW: 6)
Seriously, there were a few readers this offseason who tried to convince me Andrew Luck was overrated.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (6-2, LW: 4)
I think the Eagles are going to make a Super Bowl with Mark Sanchez as their starter. There, I said it. I'll refund your cost for this post when I'm wrong.

3. Arizona Cardinals (7-1, LW: 2)
I'm not saying they don't deserve their record. But if you look close at some of the metrics (yards per play, yards per play allowed, point differential, Football Outsiders' DVOA, to name a few), they're not too inspiring. I can't make the case they're better than the two teams ahead of them.

2. Denver Broncos (6-2, LW: 1)
I don't worry too much about a road loss to a team like the Patriots. They'll be fine. Wouldn't surprise me at all if they end the season in the No. 1 spot. They just don't deserve the top spot anymore after what happened on Sunday. But it was close.

1. New England Patriots (7-2, LW: 3)
They're the best team in the NFL right now. If they played any team behind them on this list on a neutral field tomorrow, I'd pick the Patriots. So they're No. 1. I guess September doesn't matter that much after all.

Here's more on why the Patriots are in the top spot:

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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