Midseason NFL Power Rankings: Contenders & Pretenders Edition

The NFL is mixed bag of emotions every week in terms of how teams play from Sunday to Sunday, but it’s fair to at least take an early look at the contenders and pretenders.

Below is a midseason power ranking of all 32 teams. Along with a ranking, each team gets slapped with a “contender,” “pretender,” or “What time does April’s draft start?” label as well.

We’re heading into Week 9. I fully expect that these rankings will mean absolutely nothing by Week 10, but screw it – let’s have some fun.

Midseason Power Rankings

1. Tennessee Titans (6-0)
It’s kind of hard not to rank the only undefeated team left in the NFL at the No. 1 spot, but the Titans also deserve it. Their offense isn’t flashy outside of Rookie of the Year Candidate RB Chris Johnson, but QB Kerry Collins has provided enough savvy veteran play to allow the defense to win ballgames. And speaking of the defense, it might be the most clutch unit in the NFL season.
Midseason Status: Contender

2. New York Giants (6-1)
What the hell happened in Cleveland two weeks ago? Eli Manning looked like…well…he looked like Eli Manning pre-postseason 2007 and the defense clearly had no idea how to stop Derek Anderson and that high-powered Browns’ offense (read the sarcasm please). Still, the defending champs have four things going for them right now that make them the best team in the NFL: A quarterback, a running game, a defense that gets after the quarterback and they can win on the road.
Midseason Status: Contender

3. New England Patriots (5-2)
People are just going to think I’m putting the Pats this high because they’re the Pats. But the reason why I’m putting the Pats this high is because Bill Belichick is on a mission to prove people wrong. And once he sets his sites on proving people wrong, nothing can stop him. Not even Tom Brady on the sideline.
Midseason Status: Contender

4. Carolina Panthers (6-2)
Their win against Arizona in Week 8 was unimpressive to say the least, but good teams find ways to win even when they don’t play that well. I think this team has a ton of fraud in them, but it’s hard to argue with how well the defense is playing and how much of a different team they are with Jake Delhomme under center. If they can keep running the ball as well as they have, Carolina will win the NFC South.
Midseason Status: Contender

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
The Steelers should have beaten the Giants last Sunday – plain and simple. They had control of the game but a botched snap and some failed protection for Ben Roethlisberger cost them a win. I still think the offensive line is going to be an issue all season, but every time you think Pittsburgh is going to take a step back and start stumbling, they prove that they can win tight games with key players on the sidelines.
Midseason Status:

6. Buffalo Bills (5-2)
I know they lost to Miami last week, but a young team is going to have games like that. If Trent Edwards and the rest of the offense doesn’t don’t turn the ball over as much as they did in the fourth quarter, they might beat the Dolphins and ride a 6-1 start into the postseason. They need to start game planning on how to take the Pats down though, because their Week 17 showdown could determine if they make the postseason.
Midseason Status: Contender

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3)
The Bucs are who they are at this point – a team that will rely on defense and play it close to the vest on offense. Jeff Garcia will never be the guy slinging frozen ropes into the secondary, but no one is asking him to. As long as he continues to take care of the football, he gives his running backs and defense a chance to win the game. This team won’t impress all season, but they’re fundamentally sound and should bounce back from blowing opportunities to win in Dallas on Sunday.
Midseason Status: Contender

8. Washington Redskins (6-2)
I know they’re 6-2, but something is up in Washington. Clinton Portis has been fantastic, but they couldn’t beat the previously winless Rams at home after beating division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia on the road, and then struggled against Cleveland and Detroit the past two weeks. Jason Campbell has excelled in the West Coast Offense up to this point and Clinton Portis has been the best back in the league, but eventually the passing game will have to come up with more big plays and Portis needs to stay healthy. I’ve liked this team since preseason (I picked them to go to the playoffs), but again, something doesn’t seem right with this team.
Midseason Status: Contender

9. Chicago Bears (4-3)
If the Bears could play four quarters on a consistent basis, they might be 7-0 right now or at worst, 6-1. They had the Panthers, Bucs and Falcons beat in the fourth quarter of each of their losses and found ways to lose. But QB Kyle Orton is playing fantastic and the defense (while banged up) is still one of the best. They need to get healthy though, because Orton and the offense can’t put up close to 50 points a week like they did against the Vikings in Week 7.
Midseason Status: Contender

10. Philadelphia Eagles (4-3)
The Eagles’ record isn’t very impressive, but watch out – this could be the second half team of the season. Donovan McNabb is playing as well as he has in recent years and if he and Brian Westbrook can stay healthy, Philly could still make a run at the Giants and Redskins in the NFC East. The defense is also playing incredibly well and props to Asante Samuel for living up to that huge free agent contract so far.
Midseason Status: Contender

11. Green Bay Packers (4-3)
Kudus to QB Aaron Rodgers because nobody expected him to play this well in the first half of the season. He’s getting a ton of help from wideouts Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in the passing game, but he needs the offensive line to start opening up holes for Ryan Grant, and for Grant to start breaking off some longer runs like he did last year. Getting Al Harris back on defense will certainly help and the Pack should battle the Bears in the NFC North the rest of the way.
Midseason Status: Contender

12. Denver Broncos (4-3)
The Patriots proved on Monday Night Football two weeks ago that Denver is fraudulent. The defense isn’t good has been saved by the incredible play of QB Jay Cutler and the offense up until this point. If the defense can figure out a way to start tackling people, this could be a dangerous team. But for now, there should be major skepticism surrounding the Broncos, especially considering they are one Ed Hochuli correct call and one Martin Gramatica made field goal away from being 2-5.
Midseason Status: Contender because of their record and the fact that the rest of the AFC West is a mess.

13. Arizona Cardinals (4-3)
I would have no issue ranking the Cards higher if they could only win on the road. They outplayed the Panthers for two and a half quarters last Sunday but couldn’t avoid key mistakes and big plays in the end. Still, this team is incredibly tough to beat at home and plays in a weak division. The NFC West is still theirs to win, but again, they need to figure out a winning recipe for their road woes.
Midseason Status: Contender

14. Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
Who knows if Tony Romo will come back 100% and until he does, Brad Johnson will have plenty of opportunities to sink Wade Phillips and company. The defense played well in the win over the Bucs, but Tampa had their opportunities all game and probably should have handed the ‘Boys their third loss in a row. Considering the rising Eagles and the rest of the tough division, I’m going out on a limb now: Dallas misses the playoffs this year.
Midseason Status: Pretender

15. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
I’m trying to stand behind this team, I really am. But if they can’t run the ball, they can’t win. And the defense hasn’t been as good as it was last year to make up for the offense losing its luster. This is another team like the Colts where I know they should probably be ranked lower, but it’s hard knowing that at any point they can turn things around.
Midseason: Status: Pretender

16. Indianapolis Colts (3-3)
It’s tough ranking the Colts this low despite knowing full well that at any moment Peyton Manning could start being Peyton Manning again and Indy goes on a tear. Maybe they beat the undefeated Titans on Monday night and turn things around. Who knows, But the defense has major issues and without a completely healthy Manning, there’s not much optimism in Indy this year.
Midseason Status: Pretender

17. Atlanta Falcons (4-3)
They’re better than you think – they’re just not there yet. Rookie Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are the real deal and Roddy White is quickly emerging as one of the best young wideouts in the league. The defense is also playing better than the stats indicate, although injuries and a possible suspension for Grady Jackson are starting to mount up. Given the division they play in, the Falcons probably fall short of the postseason this year. But after the disaster that was 2007, an 8-8 finish would be an incredible accomplishment for first-year head coach Mike Smith and his team.
Midseason Status: Pretender

18. New Orleans Saints (4-4)
The Saints are probably better than the Falcons at this point, but what’s going to happen if they lose Deuce McAllister and half of their defensive line to suspensions? They’re already without Reggie Bush and no team can lose that many starters and still be competitive week in and week out. This will be an interesting team to follow over the short term because they’re certainly good enough to make the playoffs, but trouble is looming on the horizon.
Midseason Status: Pretender

19. Baltimore Ravens (4-3)
It’s hard what to make out of the Ravens this year. They were absolutely trounced by the Colts three weeks ago, but have since rebounded to beat the Dolphins and Raiders in convincing fashion. I guess that’s a mark of a young team playing with a rookie quarterback. Either way, the defense is still elite and there’s no reason the Ravens can’t challenge in the AFC North, but similarly to the Atlanta, Baltimore should take an 8-8 finish.
Midseason Status: Pretender

20. San Diego Chargers (3-5)
This is no better than an 8-8 team this year, which is tough to swallow considering they should have been competing for a Super Bowl. LanDainian Tomlinson and the defense are struggling and Philip Rivers (as good as he’s been) can’t do it on his own. They just haven’t been consistent all season.
Midseason Status: Pretender

21. New York Jets (4-3)
There’s no doubt that Brett Favre has provided this team with a spark and they’re finally exciting to watch. But he’s also killing them with his reckless play and they could have easily lost their second consecutive game to a weak Chiefs team last Sunday in the Chiefs. Favre will keep them afloat, but probably not for much longer.
Midseason Status: Pretender

22. Cleveland Browns (3-4)
The Browns are certainly on the comeback trail after winning three of their last four games and hung with the Redskins in a tough environment two weeks ago. They could easily rank higher if Derek Anderson can play as well as he did against Cleveland and Jacksonville the rest of the year. Defensively, this is a much-improved team with the offseason additions they made (namely Shaun Rodgers) and the Steelers still haven’t pulled away in the AFC North. The Brownies could still turn things around.
Midseason Status: Pretender

23. Miami Dolphins (3-4)
It’s hard to argue with the job Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano have done in Miami this year and the Dolphins could really rank anywhere from 19 to this spot. I rank them a little lower because I still think some of the teams listed ahead of them have more upside this year, although their win over the Bills last Sunday was impressive. As with the Falcons and Ravens, the Fish are moving in the right direction.
Midseason Status: Pretender

24. Houston Texans (3-4)
This team has so much young talent, but they can’t put it together on a week-to-week basis. Matt Schaub has had a roller coaster ride so far, too, but Houston is getting nice contributions from rookie Steve Slaton and of course, big-time playmaker Andre Johnson. Some thought that this team would be one of the big surprises in the NFL, but they might have to wait another year for the Texans to make a postseason run.
Midseason Status: Pretender

25. Minnesota Vikings (3-4)
Everyone’s chic pick in the NFL has stumbled this year and things could go from bad to ugly in the matter of a week or so. Both Pat Williams and Kevin Williams could be suspended soon and without them, the Vikings’ vaunted run defense will look awfully suspect. This team could really collapse in the second half.
Midseason Status: Pretender

26. St. Louis Rams (2-5)
Jim Haslett has this team playing hard again and had the Rams played with Steven Jackson Sunday in Foxboro, but they might have come away with a huge upset. The NFC West is brutal this year, but St. Louis will probably struggle to win five or six games, although that would certainly be an improvement over where Scott Linehan had this team going.
Midseason Status: When does April’s draft start?

27. Seattle Seahawks (2-5)
The fall of Mike Holmgren’s team has been painful. Holmgren shouldn’t go out this way, but injuries and poor defensive play has ransacked one of the best teams in the NFC for under a decade. It’ll be weird not seeing the Hawks in the postseason this year.
Midseason Status: When does April’s draft start?

28. Oakland Raiders (2-5)
The Raiders have fight under interim head coach Tom Cable, but they also had fight under Lane Kiffin before Al Davis axed him a couple weeks ago. The defense could be very good with a few more pieces and the offense is loaded with young talent, but it’ll probably be another year of the Raiders drafting in the top 5 again.
Midseason Status: When does April’s draft start?

29. San Francisco 49ers (2-5)
Mike Singletary should be commended for trying to light a fire under the Niners’ asses, but it’s probably too little too late. They need a real quarterback and an offensive line to open up holes for RB Frank Gore. (Mike Martz just read that and said, “Offensive line? What the hell is that?”)
Midseason Status: When does April’s draft start?

30. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6)
This once proud franchise is a mess and Larry Johnson’s situation is despicable. It’s nice to see the team take action and keep him on the sidelines, but somebody better get through to him quick because there’s not a lot of hope for this franchise. They need some of the key players to start being leaders and obviously a crap load more talent.
Midseason Status: When does April’s draft start?

31. Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)
I still think the Bengals are the best winless team in the league…
Midseason Status: When does April’s draft start?

32. Detroit Lions (0-7)
…wait, no – the Lions are the best winless team in the league. Ah forget – who gives sh*t?
Midseason Status: When does April’s draft start?

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