The Panthers again headline the weekly power rankings after almost dropping their first game of the 2015 season on the road against the Saints, eventually grinding out a tough 41-38 win. Newton continues to make his case for MVP with a 331 yard, 5 touchdown performance. For the rest of the team? Not their best performance. New Orleans made the undefeated Panthers look vulnerable, and have provided a blueprint to go toe-to-toe with Carolina. While the defense gave up 38 points and barely walked away with the victory, it speaks volumes that the Panthers are able to win a shootout with one of the league's most intelligent quarterbacks in Drew Brees, even with the defense having an off day. Carolina is scary on both sides of the ball, and are able to win either the offense or defense, as showcased last Sunday.
2. Denver Broncos (Last week: 2)
The Brock Osweiler train continues to gather more and more passengers, and rightfully so. The Broncos, under the new breath of fresh air in Osweiler, look stronger and stronger as the weeks go by. Denver's defense continues to dominate, and did just that in a 17-3 win over the Chargers. Philip Rivers, the league's second ranked leader in passing yards, was held in check all game with 202 yards and one interception. While the Broncos' success mostly rides on the defensive side of the ball, the offense continues to grow and shape with Osweiler at the helm. It also helps when the running game shows up, and that's been the case as of recent in Denver. Nobody knows when Peyton Manning will be healthy again, but with how Denver is rolling, it might not matter.
3. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 3)
Fresh off a 27-3 dismantling of the St. Louis Rams, Arizona has officially penciled themselves as legitimate. Not that they weren't before, yet they needed to prove their loss against the Rams earlier in the year was simply an off week. Now sitting at 10-2, the Arizona Cardinals are the team they were supposed to be last year. Carson Palmer continues to have a quiet MVP-like year in Arizona, and the rushing attack has been well received, even with the absences of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. The defense has been consistently dominant in the past couple weeks after allowing 30+ point games to Seattle and Cincinnati, and the Cardinals have a favorable schedule with the last 3/4 games being played at home. Arizona is likely to grab the division and perhaps the 2nd seed in the NFC within the next few weeks, and continue to be a strong candidate for Super Bowl 50 participant.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 5)
Cincinnati continues to silence doubters after rolling through a dismal Browns team this past week, 37-3. Although it is Cleveland, "good teams make bad teams look bad" and boy, did those Browns look bad. The Bengals welcomed Jeremy Hill back to form with another impressive showing, and Andy Dalton/AJ Green continue to dominate their schedule. Through this year the Bengals have done a decently good job holding opponents to minimal points. In fact, Cincy actually leads the NFL in points per game allowed at 16.3. These Bengals have came a long way since their week two loss against the Buccaneers, and have a good chance of clinching the division sometime in the near future.
5. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 8)
Uh oh, Seattle might have woken up. The Seahawks looked impressive in their dominant 38-7 win on the road against the Vikings. Seattle limited the NFL's leading rusher in Adrian Peterson to a mere 18 yards on 8 carries, and were able to move the ball up and down the field with relative ease. Russell Wilson has certainly turned his play around, and Thomas Rawls has been magnificent in the relief role of Marshawn Lynch while Lynch deals with injuries. Seattle looks to have returned to "Legion of Boom" form, and for obvious reasons, are again dangerous. The Seahawks are, for now, in the playoffs with the number six seed, and have a friendly schedule ahead of them with the Ravens/Browns/Rams before visiting Arizona in a pivotal game that has all the playoff implications in the world. Seattle is riding high, and appear to be awfully dangerous when in full attack mode.
6. New England Patriots (Last week: 4)
If you listen closely, you can hear the panic of the Patriots all the way from Boston. The injury bug has made it's way to the Patriots, and almost immediately has seen the down affects. New England's defense was forced to step up in order for the Pats to continue their winning ways, and simply hasn't produced. Losing to the Broncos prior to this week, New England was shocked by the Eagles, 35-28. So what's the deal in New England? Surely adjusting to life without key offensive weapons would slow down Tom Brady and company. However, New England is stalling on offense more than they're accustomed to, and the defense simply can't hold the fort down long enough in return. The Patriots are now on a slippery slow, and must turn things around soon if a first round bye is in order. Fortunately enough, New England has a three game lead in the division with four games remaining. A tough test faces the Patriots next week as they travel to Houston to take on a hot, fired up Texans squad. Is this the week Belichick finds a way to win? Patriots fans better hope so, or a three game losing streak will be staring Super Bowl hopes in the face.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 9)
After a dismal start to the season, the Chiefs have quietly been on a six game winning streak, the latest coming from a 34-20 win over Oakland. Charcandrick West has been more than ready to step in and fill the void for Jamaal Charles. Alex Smith has enjoyed the success of Travis Kelce more than anybody, while Jeremy Maclin headlines the receiving corps. On the stat sheet, the Chiefs don't exactly jump out as a winning football team, yet they continue to find a way to get the job done, and the credit is given to the defense. Over this six game winning streak, Kansas City has given up an outstanding average of 13.5 points per game. The Chiefs are sitting pretty as the top wildcard spot, and could easily continue their success against a schedule that includes the Chargers, Browns, Ravens and Raiders.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 10)
Nothing like a good ol' fashion beat down on primetime television to get things going, right? The Steelers, needing a win to keep pace with the Bills and Chiefs, came out and absolutely trashed the Colts, 45-10. The explosive offensive attack of Pittsburgh has been up to par, as DeAngelo Williams again shines in the backfield, adding to an already lethal aerial attack. As good as Pittsburgh's offense has been playing, the defense seems to have finally turned the corner and is starting to improve. Although the Steelers pass defense still is a (very, very long) work in progress, it was encouraging to see the secondary limit Matt Hasselbeck to 169 yards and two interceptions, and will continue to be even more encouraging if Brandon Boykin is used more as the season progresses. Unlike the teams above, the Steelers have their work cut out for them, facing two 10-2 teams in the Bengals/Broncos. As of now, the Steelers are one of the more scarier teams should the defense come full circle, yet if Big Ben is able to put up 30 points a game like the goal was at the beginning of the season, Pittsburgh should find themselves in a playoff push come late December.
9. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 7)
Losing the last 4/6 games, Green Bay finds themselves barely clinging on to a division lead over the Vikings, and the mood around Green Bay isn't exactly what it was after their 6-0 start. Don't be fooled, the Packers should be a 7-5 football team, and a terrible facemask call which set up the game winning touchdown covered up a horrendous showing against a 4-8 Detriot Lions squad, who they also previously lost to at home. No blame should be placed on Aaron Rodgers, he's getting mauled with his patchwork offensive line and his running backs (Eddie Lacy and James Starks) have been up and down all season. Defensively, Green Bay has shown no signs of fault on the defensive front. Simply put, the Packers get who they play. If they play a hot Carolina Panthers team, they'll concede 37 points. If they play a lowly 49ers team, they'll give up a mere 3 points. Inconsistent would be the correct term for this team, and with four weeks left and a bare minimum lead in the NFC North, Green Bay must find their previous form, and rather quickly at that.
10. New York Jets (Last week: Unranked)
New York currently holds the #6 seed in the AFC playoff picture after beating the Giants in OT, 23-20. First season head coach Todd Bowles has taken over Rex Ryan's former warriors and turned them into a playoff contender. Much like the Chiefs, the Jets dont exactly scream "playoff team" when looking at the numbers, but somehow the Jets have found themselves at the last playoff spot, and at the last spot in this list. Brandon Marshall is having himself an incredible bounce back year, thanks in part to the gun-slinging styles of Ryan Fitzpatrick. On the ground, Chris Ivory has shouldered the workload and followed with success, needing only 187 yards to eclipse the 1,000 mark, and three more touchdowns to reach the double digit mark as well. On the other side of the ball, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie have had problems living up to their "best secondary in the league" potential at times, and rank in the bottom half statistically in pass defense. Yet their run stopping abilities are off the charts, as New York is first in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (83.5) thanks in-part to a dominant front seven. The last two games on the Jets' schedule aren't particularly friendly on paper (tough tests against Patriots/Bills) their next two games (Titans, Cowboys) should provide a valuable springboard for New York to return to the post-season.