As our NFL Power Rankings hit Week 6, it's looking clearer and clearer that the AFC -- even in this wild year of incredible parity -- has a healthy dose of elite teams. The Ravens and Jets are rolling right now, battling out for the top spot in our Power Rankings on a now-weekly basis.
Pittsburgh should be an even more serious challenger now that Ben Roethlisberger's back, while New England and several teams in the AFC South are still capable of doing damage.
But the bigger issue is that the NFC's expected big boys are dropping left and right. Dallas? 1-3 after a home loss to Tennessee. Minnesota? 1-3 with a tough slate ahead. Green Bay? 3-2 but with about the entire population of Wisconsin on its injured list.
So where do teams fall in Week 6 of this topsy-turvy NFL season? Let's take a look ...
- 1. Ravens (4-1) | Last Week: 3
The Ravens and Jets are 1 and 1a right now -- it's hard to really decipher between the two. Great defenses, really solid run games and QBs that are just good enough to keep winning. We'll know even more about Baltimore after this Sunday's trip to Foxborough to take on the Patriots.
- 2. Jets (4-1) | Last Week: 1
It's nitpicking, sure, but the Jets' struggles in opposing territory Monday night and inability to close the Vikings out combine to drop them out of the top spot. Looking at the schedule ahead, it'd be downright shocking if 4-1 didn't become at least 11-5.
- 3. Steelers (3-1) | Last Week: 4
Big Ben gets to ease back into the lineup against Cleveland before a three-game road trip (Miami, New Orleans, Cincinnati) with two nationally-televised games. Pittsburgh will surely take its 3-1 record in Roethlisberger's absence, but the four-game punishment did cost the Steelers a home loss to Baltimore, which could loom large as we go along.
- 4. Patriots (3-1) | Last Week: 5
Put the Patriots here with a bullet. With Randy Moss, they looked like an elite AFC team. We'll have to see how they fare with Deion Branch in the lineup instead. Upcoming games against Baltimore, San Diego and Minnesota provide a nice litmus test.
- 5. Falcons (4-1) | Last Week: 12
After dropping their season opener, the Falcons have reeled off four wins in a row, the first time the team has done that in Mike Smith's tenure. The defense has stepped up, allowing just 70 points this season in five games. Only three teams are better at holding opponents from scoring. -- Knox Bardeen
- 6. Colts (3-2) | Last Week: 8
Sure, they've probably reclaimed their spot as the AFC South favorite. But the 3-2 start hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty, and the offense -- with a banged-up backfield -- looked average Sunday against Kansas City.
- 7. Bears (4-1) | Last Week: 7
No bonus points for beating the horrific Panthers, especially with Todd Collins forgetting which team to throw the ball to. It's Jay Cutler or bust for the Bears, who need their QB to stay healthy all year to maintain their NFC North lead.
- 8. Titans (3-2) | Last Week: 17
As the Texans slipped back to the pack, Tennessee made a statement in Dallas, upsetting the Cowboys. Suddenly, the Titans are right in the AFC South mix. Any team with Chris Johnson running the football has to be taken seriously.
- 9. Saints (3-2) | Last Week: 2
The Saints dropped just three games all last year, but have already lost twice in the first five weeks of the 2010 season. Injuries to running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas haven't helped, but the team just hasn't gelled yet. A trip to Tampa Bay in Week 6 could help jump start a sputtering offense. -- KB
- 10. Redskins (3-2) | Last Week: 14
The Redskins didn't win back-to-back games all last season. So this is progress -- even if it wasn't pretty and was thanks, in part, to an Aaron Rodgers concussion. This much is clear: Mike Shanahan has the 'Skins believing they can contend in the NFC. -- Michael Katz
- 11. Giants (3-2) | Last Week: 20
Hey, look: the Giants are good again. The New York has rebounded from a 1-2 start with consecutive wins, and currently boasts the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Oh, and they have to love 12 receptions, 130 yards and 2 TDs from Hakeem Nicks. That'll do. -- MK
- 12. Eagles (3-2) | Last Week: 24
Quarterback controversy! OK, probably not. Kevin Kolb did post a 103.3 rating against a sorry 49er secondary, but after the game Andy Reid had this to say: "Michael (Vick) is still starting quarterback so we won't get that controversy going there." Now, if Kolb beats the Falcons next week ... -- MK
- 13. Texans (3-2) | Last Week: 7
Round and round and round we go. Houston's tale has become all too familiar: big win, bad loss. Repeat. The Texans continue to be one of the NFL's most frustratingly inconsistent teams, and that see-saw attitude popped up again as they laid an egg at home vs. the Giants.
- 14. Packers (3-2) | Last Week: 11
Green Bay feels like an NFC contender. But this whole injury problem is starting to get ridiculous. The Packers are completely depleted everywhere -- making Sunday's botch job against the Redskins even harder to swallow. This team, right now, can't afford to miss opportunities.
- 15. Chiefs (3-1) | Last Week: 9
The only undefeated team in the league entered Week 5 as a big underdog to the Colts, and Indianapolis took care of business and handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season. Jamaal Charles and Brandon Flowers are both emerging as elite players in the league. -- RW
- 16. Buccaneers (3-1) | Last Week: 21
Josh Freeman has five touchdown passes this year and three of them have gone to rookie, fourth-round pick Mike Williams, who also leads the team in receptions with 19. Freeman-to-Williams could be a regular occurrence for the Buccaneers moving forward. -- KB
- 17. Dolphins (2-2) | Last Week: 19
Enjoy a bye week and move up two spots in the rankings. Huzzah. Miami's place in this division looks pretty clear: better than Buffalo, not quite as good as the Patriots (at least pre-Moss trade) and the Jets. We'll see if they can prove that wrong.
- 18. Jaguars (3-2) | Last Week: 22
Jacksonville is part of that four-way first-place tie mess in the AFC South, but at least on paper, still looks like the weakest of the bunch. But they already beat the Colts, and if they down Tennessee in Week 6, they might have to be considered the new division favorite. Amazing.
- 19. Chargers (2-3) | Last Week: 10
The Chargers surprisingly dropped a fluky game to the Raiders in which they had two punts blocked early, which resulted in nine quick points. Marcus McNeill is on his way back to the left tackle position, which is great news for an offense that's already playing well, thanks to Philip Rivers' chemistry with new No. 1 WR Malcolm Floyd. -- RW
- 20. Cardinals (3-2) | Last Week: 27
They rank 31st in the league in points allowed, and last in the NFC, but the Cardinals are sitting atop the division after a stunning upset of New Orleans. Two defensive TDs ultimately made all the difference in the win, and the offense looks to be headed in the right direction with Max Hall at QB. -- RW
- 21. Broncos (2-3) | Last Week: 15
Kyle Orton remains on an historic pace in passing yards while Brandon Lloyd is emerging as a bona fide No. 1 receiver. You probably felt as weird reading that last sentence as I did writing it. Josh McDaniels would make the Jay Cutler trade again and again. The rushing offense really needs Knowshon Moreno healthy. -- RW
- 22. Vikings (1-3) | Last Week: 16
For a stretch Monday night, Minnesota looked every bit the NFC title contender. But then the defense got gashed for a TD and Brett Favre threw a terrible pick-six. Eventually, this team will be very good. But will it be too late? The Vikes are already 1-3 and have Dallas, at Green Bay, at New England in the next three weeks.
- 23. Seahawks (2-2) | Last Week: 26
The Seahawks were busy during the week off, first trading for Marshawn Lynch, then shipping Deion Branch back to New England. Both trades should help an offense needing a lead running back as well as more playing time for a young receiving corps. -- RW
- 24. Bengals (2-3) | Last Week: 23
CIncinnati games are starting to feel like an action movie where the clock is slowly ticking down on a bomb ... except the Bengals don't appear to have any tools or wherewithal to stop it. Back-to-back losses to Cleveland and Tampa Bay put Cincinnati on the brink of a total meltdown.
- 25. Lions (1-4) | Last Week: 29
Detroit kicked the stuffing out of St. Louis on Sunday, again showing that this is an improved team -- the offense has a lot of weapons, and the defense is at least less terrible compared to 2009. The Lions are three plays away from being 4-1.
- 26. Raiders (2-3) | Last Week: 28
Bruce Gradkowski had to leave the Week 5 win over San Diego early, and Jason Campbell came in and showed the coaches that they may have been quick to remove him from the lineup. With the 2-3 Raiders in the thick of the division title hunt after five weeks, the team shouldn't be afraid to explore all options. -- RW
- 27. Cowboys (1-3) | Last Week: 18
A win over the Texans heading into a bye week was just what the Cowboys needed to turn their season around, right? To quote Hertz: not exactly. After falling to the Titans, the 'Boys are 1-3, and the wheels are falling of the Super Bowl bandwagon – if they haven't already. -- MK
- 28. Rams (2-3) | Last Week: 13
The season-ending injury to Mark Clayton's right knee was a crushing blow to a passing offense that has looked remarkably competent this year. Rumors predictably swirl anointing the Rams as the perfect landing spot for Vincent Jackson. Giving the Lions their biggest win in 15 years certainly demands some kind of change. -- RW
- 29. Browns (1-4) | Last Week: 25
That win over Cincinnati in Week 4 was nice. But look away, kiddies, because this is going to be ugly in Week 6. Colt McCoy likely making his first NFL start ... at Pittsburgh ... in Roethlisberger's 2010 debut. Let's just hope he gets out of there in one piece.
- 30. 49ers (0-5) | Last Week: 30
Now 0-5, the 49ers could be on the verge of making wholesale changes. It wouldn't be surprising to see San Francisco with both a new QB and new coach within the next few weeks, especially if it comes up short against Oakland and Carolina in its next two games. -- RW
- 31. Bills (0-5) | Last Week: 32
Buffalo's not any closer to getting its first win and now Marshawn Lynch plays for the Seahawks. Seeing the Bills get above the three- or four-win plateau would be stunning. Seeing them challenge 0-16 would not be.
- 32. Panthers (0-5) | Last Week: 31
Through five games -- and remember that he only played a few snaps in Week 1 -- rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen has turned the ball over five times and has a quarterback rating of 52.2. His three interceptions and two fumbles sound bad enough. When you take into account he's fumbled the ball five other times this year and not lost possession, you see just how not ready Clausen was to take over an NFL franchise. -- KB