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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 9

11.01.11 at 1:39 am ET
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The top five saw a major shakeup in this week’s edition of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Both the Patriots (4) and Saints (8)  fell on Sunday and, as a result, drop in the rankings. Rising up are the Steelers (2) and 49ers (3).  Above all, of course, are the undefeated Packers (1). The defending champs enjoyed the week off while watching their biggest challengers for the crown lose.

We’re midway through the season but the top 22 teams in the rankings all have a shot at playoff berths. Some have better odds than others, but there is a slew of teams that are all in the race with two, three and even four losses. Six of the eight divisions in the league have three or more teams in the playoff hunt. The NFC East race is one of the more intriguing. The Redskins (22) are falling fast with a number of injuries but the Giants (10), Eagles (14), and Cowboys (21) all seem capable of taking the division.

The biggest surprise of the week was the upset win by the Rams (28) over the Saints. With the win, the Rams leave the Dolphins (30) and Colts (31) as the only winless teams in the league.

Key Week 9 games:

-Jets @ Bills, 1 pm

-Ravens @ Steelers on Sunday Night Football

-Bears @ Eagles on Monday Night Football

Byes: Panthers, Lions, Jaguars, Vikings

Green Bay Packers1. (1) Packers (7-0) — Even though the Packers were idle in Week 8, it’s clear Green Bay is a step above every other team in the NFL. The defending champs have rolled through the first half of the season and show no signs of slowing down.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2. (6) Steelers (6-2) — Many would call the Steelers’ win against the Patriots a “Statement game.” Ben Roethlisberger proved the Steelers’ vertical passing game can produce just as well as the other elite offenses in the league. “Big Ben” enjoyed good pass protection and helped show off the fast group of receivers he has in his arsenal. Defensively, the Steelers subdued the prolific Patriots offense and held them to their lowest point total all year.

San Francisco 49ers3. (4) 49ers (6-1) — Who would’ve thought the Niners would have the second best record in the NFL eight weeks into the season? Alex Smith has taken a tremendous leap forward under new coach Jim Harbaugh. Last year through seven games, Smith had nine interceptions. This year he has just two. Protecting the football and getting Frank Gore the rock seem to be the keys on offense. On top of that, the run defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and the defense has forced 10 fumbles.

New England Patriots 4. (2) Patriots (5-2) — It was clear the Patriots were outplayed and out-coached in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. The defense took a step back. Once again the pass rush was ineffective and the secondary was no match for the Steelers receivers. The receivers were constantly able to get plenty of separation. On offense, we saw what happens when opposing defenses take away the short, intermediate routes from Tom Brady. The Patriots lack a deep threat receiver and have trouble stretching the field.

5. (5) Ravens (6-2) — It’s been a turbulent past two weeks for the Ravens. They’ve played poorly in back-to-back games against one-win opponents. The most troubling element of the team’s performance has been the play of Joe Flacco. Until the second half, Flacco’s sloppy play against the Jaguars carried over. Thankfully for Baltimore, the Cardinals were the opposing team and Flacco was able to complete some short passes and get on a roll. Flacco’s completion percentage has been a problem all year; perhaps giving Flacco the opportunity to complete high percentage throws will get him back in a groove. The struggling offense has a huge test in front of them as they will face the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Ravens have lost five of their last six games at Heinz Field.

6. (7) Falcons (4-3) — As Matt Ryan nursed his ankle injury over the bye week, he surely celebrated when the Rams pulled off an improbable win over the Saints. Ryan wasn’t the only player healing. Julio Jones returned to practice on Monday and key defensive players Ray Edwards (knee) and John Abraham (groin) also used the off-week to convalesce.

Detroit Lions7. (8) Lions (6-2) — The Lions are back in the win column after snapping a two-game losing streak against the lowly Broncos. There’s nothing like getting some momentum back after playing an inferior opponent. The best news for Lions fans is that quarterback Matthew Stafford showed no ill effects from the right ankle injury he suffered in Week 7. The Lions will now take their bye week and then prepare to play a huge game against the Bears.

New Orleans Saints8. (3) Saints (5-3) — The eye-popping loss to the Rams has many scratching their heads. It looked like the Saints were a little too confident heading into St. Louis and it cost them. Drew Brees and the offense were unable to score in the first half and couldn’t get the run game going against the worst run defense in the league. The Saints had a golden opportunity to gain some ground in the NFC South but instead fell to a winless team and now will face the Bucs in a very important divisional match-up.

New York Jets9. (9) Jets (4-3) — Rex Ryan‘s team will come out of the bye and jump right back into the action with two enormous divisional games. The Bills and Patriots are next up for the third-place Jets. If they want to turn things around in the second half, the offense will have to improve dramatically. Mark Sanchez has to protect the football, they have to convert more first downs and get better on third down.

10. (10) Giants (5-2) — The next six weeks will be a battle for the Giants. The Patriots, 49ers, Eagles, Saints, Packers and Cowboys are ahead. Eli Manning and the first-place Giants barely held off the winless Dolphins in Week 8 and lost to the dreadful Seahawks earlier in the season. Their next opponents are in a totally different class and the Giants will have to be at the top of their game.

Buffalo Bills11. (11) Bills (5-2) — The most important thing the Bills had to improve on coming out of the bye was sacking the quarterback. The Bills had just four sacks in their first six games. On Sunday, the defense got to John Beck nine times. Yes, the Redskins O-Line is beleaguered, but nine sacks and doubling your total on the season is very impressive. Rookie defensive lineman Marcell Dareus moved from DE to nose tackle and it made a tremendous difference. He had 2.5 sacks. If the defense continues to progress, the Bills will compete for a playoff spot until the end.

Chicago Bears12. (12) Bears (4-3) — Fresh off the bye week, the Bears will get back to work against the red-hot Eagles. The Bears need to build off the momentum they’ve gained over the last month. Solid play from Matt Forte and the offensive line have put the Bears back in the race in the NFC.

Houston Texans13. (13) Texans (5-3) — The win against the Jaguars came at a cost. Linebacker Darryl Sharpton is the latest Texans defensive player to go down. The Texans are losing defensive starters left and right; first it was Mario Williams, then Daniel Manning and now Sharpton. The good news is that the offense has been clicking, even without Andre Johnson. Arian Foster has stolen the show and continues to produce.

14. (18) Eagles (3-4) — Finally, the offensive line turned in its best performance of the year. LeSean McCoy had all sorts of room to run against what was supposed to be the league’s best run defense. The success of the run game opens up the passing game for Michael Vick and in turn makes the Eagles offense explosive. That’s two straight NFC East wins for Philly.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers15. (16) Buccaneers (4-3) — The Bucs are hoping running back LeGarrette Blount will be able to return after missing two games with a knee injury. Blount will be an important factor because the Bucs are taking on a Saints team that has struggled to stop the run. On top of that, Josh Freeman and the offense need him in the worst way. Freeman is coming off a four-interception game and back-up running back Earnest Graham is out for the year.

Cincinnati Bengals16. (20) Bengals (5-2) — Although five of their seven games have been against teams with a below .500 record, the Bengals deserve some credit. The defense has made all the difference. The Bengals are allowing the third fewest points in the NFL. On top of that, Andy Dalton has had an impressive freshman season so far.

Oakland Raiders 17. (17) Raiders (4-3) — It’s been a wild year for the Raiders. Coming off their bye week, Oakland is definitely in the playoff race but will need Carson Palmer to meet expectations. They’ll also need a healthy Darren McFadden, who was seen on crutches last week. Palmer isn’t the only former Pro Bowler to join the team. Cornerback Lito Sheppard signed with the team on Monday. Additionally, TJ Houshmandzadeh will work out with the Raiders today.

Kansas City Chiefs18. (21) Chiefs (4-3) — This was a team many considered finished after three games. Despite an array of injuries, the Chiefs have overcome adversity and now find themselves tied for first place in the AFC West. The Chiefs defense did a tremendous job stopping the Chargers in the red zone on Monday, pressuring Philip Rivers and forcing turnovers. Since being outscored 109-27 in their first three games, the Chiefs have outscored their opponents 101-61 and have a four-game winning streak.

19. (14) Chargers (4-3) — Monday night brought the type of Chargers football we’ve been accustomed to watching for years — penalties, stupid turnovers, missed opportunities and bad coaching. Rivers has looked like a different quarterback this season. At times he’s shown glimpses of why some predicted him to win the MVP at the beginning of the year; and at other times he’s looked like a lost rookie. For the fifth time this season, Rivers threw two interceptions and he committed a horrific fumble on what should have been the game-winning drive near the end of regulation. The Chargers are a sloppy, undisciplined football team that has not been able to close games out.

20. (19) Titans (4-3) — It’s shocking to say, but it might be time to move Chris Johnson into the back-up role. Johnson had another ‘dud’ of a game (14 carries for 34 yards). The drop-off this year from last year has been mind-boggling. CJ has just 302 rushing yards this season; 31 other running backs have more yards than that. The Titans need a productive running game and Johnson is not the answer right now.

Dallas Cowboys21. (15) Cowboys (3-4) — Cowboys fans can blame Tony Romo all they want, but the protection he’s getting from the offensive line has been abysmal. The offense has plenty of weapons, but when the line gets pushed around like it did on Sunday, it’s almost impossible to win.

Washington Redskins22. (23) Redskins (3-4) — The injuries on offense are too significant to overcome. Two starting offensive linemen, the starting running back, wide receiver and tight end all have gone down. The injury bug bit a huge chunk from the Redskins offense and the team has fallen as a result.

Jacksonville Jaguars23. (24) Jaguars (2-6) — When you talk about the worst offenses in the NFL, you have to start the conversation with the Jaguars. David Garrard‘s former team has been anemic since he was released prior to the start of the season. If you’re looking for something positive to say, the defense has played well against the pass over the last two games. Quarterbacks have completed just 56 percent of passes against the Jaguars in their last two games.

Minnesota Vikings24. (28) Vikings (2-6) — It’s only been two games, but already Christian Ponder is looking like the franchise QB the Vikings were praying for. The rookie has shown tremendous poise while behind center. In his first career win, Ponder led his team to a go-ahead, game-winning seven-minute drive in the fourth quarter. The Vikings need to continue to develop the young starter, who has shown the potential to become a solid quarterback in the NFL.

Cleveland Browns25. (25) Browns (3-4) — The depth at running back took a serious hit when it was announced that Montario Hardesty will miss some time with a torn calf muscle. Now Hardesty and Peyton Hillis are both out, leaving Colt McCoy without a run game. This is a major blow to an offense that has struggled to put points on the board all year.

Carolina Panthers26. (22) Panthers (2-6) — Not being able to close out games has become a trend in Carolina. Five of the Panthers’ six losses have been by seven points or less. Seeing as how they barely competed in any game last season, they’ve taken a step forward but now have to focus on finding ways to win games in the fourth quarter.

Denver Broncos27. (26) Broncos (2-6) — After just two weeks of Tim Tebow, the future is unclear on whether he will be the starter for much longer. John Fox was non-committal at first on whether or not Tebow would start but has since came out and given him the nod for Week 9. Tebow’s poor performance on Sunday highlighted some of the weaknesses many have already pointed out about the second-year quarterback. Inaccurate is an understatement; it’s obvious Tebow has had a difficult time adjusting to the speed of the NFL.

St. Louis Rams28. (31) Rams (1-6) — The Rams earned a tremendous amount of respect following their win against the Saints. Many teams would have given up after losing six straight, dealing with an endless amount of injuries, coming off a pathetic defensive performance and facing one of the best teams in the league. However, the Rams didn’t concede and pulled off the biggest upset win of the year.

Seattle Seahawks29. (27) Seahawks (2-5) — It’s safe to say the NFC West won’t go through Seattle this year. The Seahawks can’t be a playoff team with their instability at the quarterback position. Neither Charlie Whitehurst nor Tarvaris Jackson is capable of winning many games in the NFL. Pete Carroll must figure out what he wants to do at quarterback.

Arizona Cardinals30. (29) Cardinals (1-6) — The Cardinals have blown second half leads all year. Sunday’s loss marked the fourth time this season Arizona collapsed in the second half. Ken Whisenhunt‘s job has to be in jeopardy. The team hasn’t lived up to expectations and has shown little improvement.

Miami Dolphins31. (30) Dolphins (0-7) — The Dolphins suffered another gut-wrenching loss, this time at the hands of the Giants. No team needs Andrew Luck as much as the Fins do. Unfortunately, it looks like the Colts “Suck for Luck” just a little bit more than the Dolphins. At least Tony Sparano‘s team is putting itself in position to compete.

32. (32) Colts (0-8) — A winless season looks like a serious possibility for Indy. The Colts stagger into each week looking like a team that has no business being on the field.

Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to powerrankings@weei.com. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

Read More: aaron rodgers, Mark Sanchez, NFL Power Rankings, Philip Rivers
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