Finally, after nine weeks of football, there is a new No. 1 atop our power rankings. The Houston Texans put on one of the grittiest performances of the year in beating Chicago. That impressive victory jumps them over Atlanta, by a slim margin. Falcons are still an elite team with Super Bowl aspirations. The Bears ... well, they might be in serious letdown mode if Jay Cutler is out for an extended period. Anyway, away we go:
1. Texans (8-1): Change at the top finally. After the Texans went into Soldier Field on a cold, rainy Bears-type of night and bullied the home team (and knocked Jay Cutler out) for four quarters, how can they not be considered the NFL’s best team? They can win track-meet style. They can win defensive-minded struggles. They can win it all.
2. Falcons (8-1): We fully expected Atlanta to lose to a hungry, rejuvenated Saints team. Matt Ryan and the boys are right where they want to be as they return to their fortress of solitude, the impenetrable Georgia Dome, where Ryan has only lost four times.
3. Bears (7-2): This defense is Super Bowl-grade, but Chicago isn’t going anywhere without Jay Cutler (concussion). Last year, they lost four straight without him and their season faded into oblivion.
4. Ravens (7-2): The wheels haven’t fallen off without Ray Lewis and if they can survive a challenging schedule the rest of the way (four of seven on the road), they will win another AFC North title easily.
5. 49ers (6-2-1): David Akers doesn’t miss many of those, and San Fran doesn’t lose many of those. At the end of the day, a tie is still better than a loss.
6. Packers (6-3): Might be the hottest team in all of football after reeling off four straight wins and nursing their wounds during the bye. Holding out hope they can get Greg Jennings back for the stretch run.
7. Broncos (6-3): If the Chargers continue to implode, Peyton Manning and Co. will be able to rest on their laurels. Broncos play just two teams with winning records rest of the season.
8. Patriots (6-3): We know the offense is good enough, with 33.2 points-per-game average. But that defense doesn’t exactly inspire confidence giving up 382 yards per game (25th in NFL).
9. NY Giants (6-4): Eli Manning’s arm looks tired, the defense looks gassed and the annual November swoon has begun. Giants will look to re-charge their batteries during bye and come back swinging.
10. Steelers (6-3): It’s shocking to believe that an organization steeped in tradition and deep draft classes has journeymen Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch backing up Big Ben. If he’s out for an extended period, Steelers are cooked.
11. Colts (6-3): Bruce Arians may be coaching his way into a couple of wish lists come this offseason. Indy has already tripled its win total from a year ago.
12. Seahawks (6-4): Russell Wilson hasn’t thrown a pick in past two victories, while throwing for five TDs. With Wilson doing that, Seattle can compete for the NFC West crown.
13. Vikings (6-4): He’s already got the Comeback Player of the Year award locked up … now it’s time to start talking about Adrian Peterson as NFL MVP.
14. Buccaneers (5-4): Greg Schiano’s bunch leaps two more spots after knocking off San Diego. Well-balanced and starting to believe in themselves.
15. Saints (4-5): Throw statistics out the window, at least defensive ones. Drew Brees (25 TDs) is willing Saints to wins — and making a mid-season playoff push.
16. Bengals (4-5): Impressive performance from Andy Dalton in impressive win over defending Super Bowl champions. Let’s see if they’ve figured it out, or simply victimized a broken Giants team.
17. Dolphins (4-5): First time Fins got blown out since Week 1 — and still not out of the mix in slumping AFC East.
18. Lions (4-5): Ndamukong Suh impacts the game in so many ways. Even in a 10-point defeat, he caused fits for the Vikings on every snap.
19. Cowboys (4-5): They tried hard to lose in Philly, but Eagles wouldn’t let that happen. Tony Romo can still make Houdini plays when he needs to.
20. Chargers (4-5): Maybe some of that fiery attitude Norv Turner displayed postgame will rub off on his fading team. Not likely, but maybe.
21. Rams (3-5-1): Danny Amendola (11 catches, 102 yards) might be the most underrated player in the entire league.
22. Redskins (3-6): Skins aren’t going to crash the postseason party, but they could certainly crush some dreams over next seven weeks.
23. Cardinals (4-5): Five straight losses and a road date with Atlanta. The desert looked a lot cozier back in September.
24. Titans (4-6): That’s how you rebound from a 31-point shellacking. Chris Johnson definitely drafted himself on his fantasy team.
25. Eagles (3-6): Mike Vick probably played his last game as an Eagle. Let the Nick Foles era begin.
26. NY Jets (3-6): Rex Ryan insists he won’t make a change at quarterback. Maybe he should make a change at defensive coordinator. His unit has allowed 29 points per game in three straight defeats.
27. Bills (3-6): Buffalo might be looking for a new QB in April’s draft. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer there.
28. Raiders (3-6): There’s really no need to rush Darren McFadden back. Oakland is headed nowhere.
29. Browns (2-7): Upset special: we’re picking the Brownies over the Cowboys in Big D this week. Just a hunch.
30. Panthers (2-7): Ron Rivera is 8-17 in his two seasons. Time to update the old resume.
31. Jaguars (1-8): Drafting is everything, and Jags haven't seen a good one in a long, long time.
32. Chiefs (1-8): There is talent here, Romeo Crennel just can’t draw it out. Team has quit on him.