By BEN SHATZMAN
1. New England Patriots: Even with several big injuries, the Pats’ defense is proving itself to be among the best in the league. The numbers may not agree, but holding Denver to 21 points and intercepting Peyton Manning twice is no easy task. The signing of Darrelle Revis has been enormous.
2.Denver Broncos: The Pats outplayed them in all facets of the game on Sunday, but the Broncos just weren’t sharp. Manning vs. Brady XVII may very well be the AFC Championship.
3.Arizona Cardinals: They escaped Dallas and the Romo-less Cowboys with a win on Sunday. It would have been a huge statement had they beaten Dallas with Romo, but the Cards are stout on both sides of the ball, and Bruce Arians is making a run at his second Coach of the Year award.
4.Dallas Cowboys: Before Tony Romo’s injury last week, the Cowboys were playing like the best team in the league. DeMarco Murray is having an Adrian Peterson 2012 type season, and Rob Marinelli is getting everything out of what was supposed to be a weak defense.
5.Seattle Seahawks: It’s only a matter of time before the Seahawks rid themselves of their Super Bowl hangover. They have been hampered by injuries, and as they return to full strength, they will be a favorite in the NFC. Four of their remaining eight games are against the 49ers and the Cardinals.
6.Philadelphia Eagles: Mark Sanchez shouldn’t be a huge downgrade from Nick Foles. Chip Kelly’s system needs a decent arm under center, and Sanchez is a proven veteran. Foles is expected to be out for more than a month.
7.Detroit Lions: The Lions are 6-2 and have played their last few games without Calvin Johnson. Their Week 9 bye should help them return to full strength. They have a top-five defense. Firing Jim Schwartz was long overdue.
8. Green Bay Packers: They were destroyed by New Orleans on the road, but the Saints were basically fighting for their season, and the Superdome is a tough place to get a win. They take on Chicago, Philly and New England in three of their next four games — all at frigid Lambeau Field.
9. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts’ defense had been playing great until Big Ben and the Steelers exposed them. Their Monday night matchup with the Giants should reveal if the Colts’ D is a legitimate force.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger is putting up ridiculous numbers. Back to back weeks with six touchdowns? Sheesh. Antonio Brown is the best sub-six foot receiver in the league – and maybe overall.
11. Cincinnati Bengals: Their offense looked solid without AJ Green, but with Green back the Bengals offer a multitude of weapons. The Bernard-Hill backfield tandem is among the most dynamic duos in the league. They meet Cleveland in a huge divisional game on Thursday night.
12. Miami Dolphins: Phillip Rivers is as consistent as they come, and the Fins’ defense made him look silly in a 37-0 victory. Despite early season concern over Ryan Tannehill, he is proving himself to be a good quarterback in in this league. They travel to Detroit on Sunday.
13. San Francisco 49ers: The Niners are the best 4-4 team, but that isn’t saying much. They have the talent to win the NFC. Colin Kaepernick has been brutally inconsistent. The Niners’ offense must get in rhythm and beat the Saints on Sunday. At least the Giants won the World Series.
14.Baltimore Ravens: It looked as though the Ravens were going to crush the Steelers during the first quarter Sunday night. But they self destructed with penalties, and Ben Roethlisberger picked their secondary apart. Joe Flacco looked like an average quarterback versus Pittsburgh’s mediocre secondary.
15.San Diego Chargers: Their offense looked incompetent in Miami on Sunday, but I’m confident that it was one fluke game. They have a “get right” game at home versus Oakland on Sunday.
16. Kansas City Chief: The Chiefs are riding a three-game win streak anchored by their consistent defensive play. Alex Smith has been called a “game manager” in the past, but he’s proving to be far more than that. The Chiefs travel to Buffalo on Sunday in a matchup of two teams fighting to make the playoffs.
17.Buffalo Bills: Since making the switch to Kyle Orton, the Bills have looked like a good football team. Despite losing their leading tackler to injury, their defense is performing well, and Bills’ fans are riding high. They have a bunch of winnable games coming up before finishing with Denver, Green Bay and New England in three of their last four.
18. New Orleans Saints: The Saints finally look like the Saints. They dismantled Green Bay and then picked up a road win versus Carolina. Mark Ingram is playing like everyone expected him to coming out of the draft. They have an important game Sunday at home versus the Niners.
19. Cleaveland Browns: The Browns are really making a push to win the AFC North — a division totally up for grabs. Brian Hoyer is serviceable, and Johnny Manziel likely won’t start a game this year unless Hoyer enters total breakdown mode. Hoyer has earned the starting spot. The return of Josh Gordon will be enormous for the Browns’ offense.
20. Houston Texans: Houston has won the games they were expected to win, and vice versa. They define average, but are improving and have big-time weapons on both sides of the ball. DeAndre Hopkins is making a name for himself.
21. New York Giants: The G-men need a win against the Colts on Monday night. They have had their ups and their downs, but their next three games are against the Seahawks, Niners and Cowboys, so expect more downs.
22. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton has had a rough season. Neither Carolina’s offense nor its defense are playing anywhere near as well as they played in 2013. The team has time to turn it around, as the second half of its schedule is much easier than the first half.
23. Chicago Bears: Oh, the Bears. The Bears’ defense was horrendous versus New England. Tom Brady torches most defenses, but the Bears got really, really torched, allowing 51 points. Jay Cutler needs to be more consistent if the Bears are going to turn their season around.
24. Minnesota Vikings: The hiring of Norv Turner has proved key for the Vikings’ offense. They start a rookie at quarterback and lack big name players around him, but they have squeezed out several wins, including a comeback victory versus Washington on Sunday. Matt Cassel probably won’t start another game for the Vikings.
25. St. Louis Rams: The Rams defense finally played the way it was expected against the 49ers, sacking Colin Kaepernick eight times. Austin Davis has come down to earth, and Rams’ fans are wondering what could have been with Sam Bradford under center.
26. Washington: Despite the return of RGIII, Washington still lost a heartbreaker to the Vikings on Sunday. The team’s defense has played well through the first half of the season, and a Week 10 bye will be a time for Washington to work through its problems. It doesn’t seem like Jay Gruden likes RGIII very much.
27. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons’ season has been a disaster. Their young defense has been terrible, and although they have Julio Jones and other weapons, they have been unable to outscore their opponents. Tony Gonzalez has been a major loss for Atlanta’s offense.
28. Tennessee Titans: The Titans have had enough of Jake Locker and have turned to rookie Zach Mettenberger. Times are tough in Tennessee. Call Brett Favre?
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa has suffered five nail-biting losses this season, and probably shouldn’t be 1-7, but it is. I’m not sure that Lovie Smith was the right man for the job.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars: Most people would have the Jags at 31 or 32, but Gus Bradley has these guys playing hard and staying in games. They are not an easy team to beat.
31. New York Jets: The Jets have issues at quarterback, but when you combine those issues with Marty Mornhinweg’s mind-numbingly dumb play calling, it makes for a disaster. Michael Vick looked solid Sunday in Kansas City.
32. Oakland Raiders: They aren’t as bad as their record suggests, and could easily have a couple wins. But with Denver and San Diego coming up, 0-16 isn’t out of the question, and Raiders Nation should prepare for the No. 1 pick in the draft.