Denver Broncos starting quarterback Peyton Manning may very well possess every meaningful record outside of Super Bowl wins and playoff victories when all is said and done. He could, minus a couple of performances, be the best in the business today. All of that said, no quarterbacks n the National Football League have played better over the past two weeks than two other Super Bowl champions; Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers starter Ben Roethlisberger.
The irony is that some fans and analysts buried Brady and Roethlisberger earlier in the season. Neither the Patriots nor the Steelers appeared to be championship contenders after the first month of the season, and critics were saying that there were signs that Brady and Roethlisberger had entered the downsides of their careers. While nobody knows for sure what the future holds for either man, they have unquestionably silenced any and all doubters for the time being.
What is perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2014 NFL season to date involves the Steelers. The AFC North is the best division in pro football after the first weekend of November, as all four of its teams hold winning records. Pittsburgh made a statement in front of a national television audience in disposing of rivals the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football, and the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns will face off on Thursday night for a game that could affect the playoff hopes of both sides;
Yes, that’s right. Both. The Browns have not lit the world on fire with their performances over the past month, but they have earned enough positive results to be in postseason contention after eight games. That hasn’t happened for Cleveland pro football since the so-called “Season of Dreams” of 2007 when quarterback Derek Anderson came out of nowhere to have a magical campaign. Anderson’s Cleveland career did not have a happy ending, and Cleveland fans will be hoping for a different conclusion regarding current starting QB Brian Hoyer this time around.
32. Oakland Raiders (0-8)
A team that is winless halfway through the season isn’t very good. You are what your record is, after all. Still, there are reasons for fans of the Raiders to have hope for the club’s future. Derek Carr continues to be the best rookie quarterback in the league, and he could be a Rookie of the Year contender at the end of December. Remember, also, that Carr is not necessarily playing with a top-shelf cast of characters on the Oakland offense. Carr could prove to be something special if Oakland does well to build around him.
31. New York Jets (1-8)
Matt Simms could be the starting quarterback of the New York Jets moving forward. That’s where the franchise is in 2014. No disrespect meant to Simms, but there are valid reasons for why he was third on the team’s depth chart after the preseason. Simms is, of course, not the big problem for the green New York football team. The secondary of the Jets is a disaster, the team has a lame duck head coach in Rex Ryan, and those running the Jets did nothing to improve the roster this past offseason.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7)
Lovie Smith isn’t a miracle worker. He is a football head coach who landed a job that brought with it a lackluster roster. Smith deserves more than one offseason to show what he can do. Granted, early results are not promising for his future with the club. Tampa Bay seems to be worse off than the franchise was a year ago, and the Bucs still do not have a winning NFL quarterback. They will likely be grabbing a hoped-to-be team-saving QB in the 2015 NFL Draft.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
The hope for Jacksonville’s future is that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles will, in time, limit the mistakes and the turnovers that have been so costly during his first season in the NFL. As is the case with the previously mentioned Carr, Bortles is performing admirably considering who is around him on the offense of the Jags. Bortles was, in scouting reports, deemed to be a work in progress heading into the 2014 NFL Draft, and that remains the case for the UCF product.
28. Tennessee Titans (2-6)
That rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger has already seen the field for meaningful action in 2014 tells you all you need to know about the state of the Titans eight games into their campaign. Know what they don’t need right now? A road contest against a Baltimore Ravens side that was humbled by a rival club on Sunday Night Football. That game could get ugly for those of you who support the Titans.
27. Atlanta Falcons (2-6)
An off week alone is not saving the 2014 Falcons. Atlanta has been a massive disappointment for the second straight season, and head coach Mike Smith may be lucky to finish out 2014 with the club. The Falcons have lost five straight, they haven’t won since the middle of September, their defense is offensive, and their offensive line is again a mess. It’s not all bad news for the Falcons looking ahead, however, as they’ll play at Tampa Bay this coming weekend.
26. Washington Redskins (3-6)
Washington is a fascinating NFL team to study as it pertains to off-the-field stories. It has been rumored that quarterback Robert Griffin III has lost at least some players inside of the locker room of the Redskins. RG3 did himself little favors in failing to take care of business against a below-average Minnesota Vikings team. Colt McCoy, who played well in two games before being benched in favor of Griffin, is there waiting for another chance.
25. Chicago Bears (3-5)
The football overlords can be cruel at time. Chicago received a Bye when the team needed one. The Bears lost back-to-back games against the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, and those inside of the locker room needed some time apart following reported in-fighting. What is cruel about the team’s fate is that Chicago now has to face off with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers who also happened to have an off week.
24. New York Giants (3-5)
Injuries certainly aren’t helping Big Blue’s cause, but the truth remains that the New York Giants just are not a good football team. Their offense came up with zero fixes during the Bye week, and quarterback Eli Manning was once again hung out to dry by wide receivers who couldn’t catch the ball and offensive linemen who couldn’t block. Critics will offer lazy analysis that Manning played poorly on Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts, but he never had a chance.
23. Carolina Panthers (3-5-1)
I’m going to throw something out there and see if it sticks: The Carolina Panthers are the most overrated team in all of the NFL. One doesn’t know what they’ll see from quarterback Cam Newton or from the Carolina defense on a weekly basis. The Panthers have notched only two victories in five home games. Carolina isn’t heading anywhere near a playoff berth if the club can’t post a winning record at home, as the Panthers are hardly road warriors.
22. Minnesota Vikings (4-5)
Minnesota does not have what could be referred to as a “quality win” this season. The Vikings dropped three games in a row and five of six earlier this season. On the other hand, the Vikes picked up two straight wins entering the Bye week. Minnesota wouldn’t be a playoff team if the season ended today, but that the Vikings haven’t yet been eliminated from the postseason discussion after nine games is an admirable accomplishment.
21. Houston Texans (4-5)
Those in charge of the Texans always knew what they were getting into in drafting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. It’s why the team was actively shopping the draft pick up through the evening of May 8. Clowney was, on paper, too good to pass on, but worries about his commitment to the cause had other general managers around the league happy that they were not in possession of the first overall draft pick. Just check his Instagram activity.
20. St. Louis Rams (3-5)
Say this about the 2014 Rams: They show up for the big games on their schedule. St. Louis has, over the past three weeks, earned wins over the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. The win over the Niners occurred out west in San Francisco. Up next for the Rams are games against the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. Will St. Louis be able to make headlines for their performances in those contests?
19. Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
Nobody should panic about the Ravens, nor should anyone flip out about Baltimore being ranked so low in NFL power rankings. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of five-win teams out there, and the Ravens were spanked on Sunday Night Football by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore getting blown out by Pittsburgh and vice versa in regular season play is no reason to raise your eyes considering the rivalry between the two clubs. Don’t count the Ravens out yet.
18. New Orleans Saints (4-4)
Are the Saints, in fact, “back?” Here is what we know for sure. New Orleans has won two straight, and the Saints have earned victories in three of their past four contests. New Orleans nearly defeated the Lions in Detroit. Quarterback Drew Brees is looking like the player of old, and the Saints have finally won when away from home. The Saints are favorites to emerge as champions of the NFC South, and that could be enough for them to make a run.
17. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)
How the heck do you lose to St. Louis Rams at home after having had an extra week to prepare for that game? Perhaps the answer really is as easy as the rumors of unrest in the San Francisco locker room are legit. Head coach Jim Harbaugh will continue to be linked with other jobs so long as the Niners play like nothing but a middle-of-the-road club.
16. San Diego Chargers (5-4)
What was, years ago, a tradition of the Chargers falling apart during seasons has returned and in a big way. After winning five straight, the not-so Super Chargers dropped three in a row before their Bye week. The San Diego defense failed to show up over the team’s past eight quarters of football, and the Chargers were shut out by the Miami Dolphins this past Sunday. It’s soul-searching time for San Diego.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1)
The Bengals are getting superstar wide receiver A.J. Green back at the perfect time. Green caught a touchdown in Cincy’s win over Jacksonville, and his toe should be even healthier for the Thursday Night Football game against the Cleveland Browns. The secondary of the Browns has been a liability when facing even average competition, and Green could be in for his best game of the season in front of a national audience.
14. Cleveland Browns (5-3)
The Browns winning five of eight games is reason enough for Cleveland football fans to plan for a parade. Not so fast, everybody. Cleveland won two of three games against three of the worst teams in all of the NFL. On top of that, the Browns looked “meh” in all of those contests. Cleveland’s defense stepped up against mediocre competition, and Brian Hoyer is winning but doing so ugly. We’ll see what the Browns really are when they have to play against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
13. Buffalo Bills (5-3)
What the Bills are — or aren’t — should be learned over the next two weeks. Buffalo will, following a Bye week, host the Kansas City Chiefs this coming Sunday. The Bills will then be on the road to play against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. Both of those opponents, like the Bills, have five wins heading into Week 10. One of these teams may break away from the pack over the next eight weeks. Will it be Buffalo?
12. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)
So what if the Chiefs didn’t play like a dominant side in dispatching the New York Jets over the weekend? Winning is the name of the game in the NFL, and KC is playing winning football. The Chiefs are ironically not all that different than their starting quarterback. Nobody is going to confuse Alex Smith for Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but he gets the job done more than one would think considering the reputation he has as a “game manager.”
11. Dallas Cowboys (6-3)
Remember when the Cowboys were undisputed kings of 2014 NFL power rankings? How quickly things can go terribly wrong for professional sports franchises. Brandon Weeden is, well, Brandon Weeden, a quarterback who cannot be trusted to produce wins and one who makes mental and physical miscues during games. There’s no reason to believe Tony Romo (back) will be 100 percent anytime soon, and you just know that Jerry Jones is wishing he would have pulled the trigger on grabbing Johnny Manziel when he could have done so.
10. Miami Dolphins (5-3)
It was a month ago when there were whispers that Miami starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was going to be benched. The Dolphins have since developed into real playoff contenders, and Miami lit up the scoreboard against the San Diego Chargers on the first Sunday of November. The ‘Phins and the Bills will be flying under the radar due to playing in the same division as the New England Patriots, but Miami and Buffalo could make splashes this fall.
9. Seattle Seahawks (5-3)
These aren’t your dominant Seahawks from last January/February. No reasonable person or knowledgeable football fan is saying otherwise. Seattle has, however, been to the mountaintop before, something that cannot be said about the current roster of the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards are in control of the division, but a lot can change in a short time. Ask the Dallas Cowboys if you have any doubts about that.
8. Green Bay Packers (5-3)
Feeling a little uneasy about your favorite team, Green Bay fans? R-E-L-A-X. All kidding about comments made by Aaron Rodgers aside, the Packers should be able to bounce back following that loss to the New Orleans Saints. Now is a great time for Green Bay to host a reeling Chicago Bears side that has had problems on and off the field. The Packers will give the Detroit Lions a run for the NFC North title.
7. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
What loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers? The Indianapolis Colts did well to erase that defeat from minds by heading to East Rutherford and running the New York Giants out of MetLife Stadium on Monday night. Quarterback Andrew Luck continues to get better, and his touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne in the third quarter of the win over the Giants was as good a toss as you will see at any level of football in 2014.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
No quarterback in the NFL is playing better than Ben Roethlisberger right now. Here are some of his numbers from his last eight quarters of play: 12, count ’em, 12 touchdown passes, 862 passing yards, zero interceptions and an average rating of 143.5. Roethlisberger, one of the best cold weather QBs of his generation, is heating up as the season goes along, and he is a Most Valuable Player candidate after nine games.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (6-2)
Here’s a wild statement to make: Mark Sanchez is the best quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles have as of November 3, 2014. Stop letting ESPN and “butt fumble” jokes hide the fact that Sanchez helped lead the New York Jets to multiple conference championship games. Several teams, such as the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans, should have bought when the Eagles were shopping Sanchez earlier this year.
4. Denver Broncos (6-2)
Denver lost on the road to what is (spoiler alert) the team atop NFL power rankings this week. Nobody should think any less of Peyton Manning and company after that defeat. All of the bounces went the way of the New England Patriots in that game, and Tom Brady is a man on a mission following what was a slow start to the campaign. The Broncos are still the favorites to end the regular season atop the division standings.
3. Detroit Lions (6-2)
I get people not buying in on the Lions. Detroit needs a healthy Calvin Johnson on the field. We’ve seen the Lions play well for half of a season before falling apart in previous years. Waiting for the other shoe to drop and for the Lions to crash and burn makes sense. Do not sleep on that Detroit defense, though, and do not discount what Megatron being rested and 100 percent for the stretch run of the campaign will mean for the Lions.
2. Arizona Cardinals (7-1)
The secret is out on the Cardinals. Arizona is very much for real, the best team in the NFC and the best-coached side in all of pro football. The Cardinals do not make for a juicy story in that they are not led by a big-name quarterback, they have a head coach who wouldn’t be recognized in sports bars around the country, and they don’t play in a market such as New York or Dallas. It’s time to start using the phrase “Super Bowl” when speaking about Arizona.
1. New England Patriots (7-2)
They’ve turned back clocks in New England. That Monday Night Football loss to the Kansas City Chiefs has been erased from memories, as the Patriots are playing the best football in the league at the start of November. Only Arizona has a claim to be above New England in NFL power rankings, but the Patriots get the nod for how impressive they have been during their current run. It’s hard to imagine any team beating the Pats in New England this fall.
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