1. Green Bay Packers (7-0, 1st last week): They had more trouble than expected against Minnesota, mainly because the run defense was off. But good teams find ways to win when they’re having an off day, and thanks to MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers, the Packers did exactly that.
2. New England Patriots (5-1, 2nd last week): The bad news is that, while New England was off, the Jets won and appear to be emerging again in the division. The good news is that the Chargers and Ravens lost, making the Patriots the only one-loss team remaining in the AFC.
3. New Orleans Saints (5-2, 6th last week): Coming off the most dominant performance of the year, New Orleans is now in full control of the NFC South with Drew Brees once again on a record-setting pace and the terrible Rams on deck.
4. San Francisco 49ers (5-1, 4th last week): Fresh coming off the bye. Look at the schedule — it’s hard to imagine them not winning 12 games.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2, 11th last week): They aren’t blowing me away, but with Detroit, San Diego, Oakland and Tampa Bay losing, the No. 5 spot was very much up for grabs. With James Harrison down, LaMarr Woodley has really stepped it up. Huge trio of games coming against New England, Baltimore and Cincinnati before the bye.
6. Houston Texans (4-3, 12th last week): There’s no doubt, now, that they’re by far the best team in the AFC South, with or without Andre Johnson and Mario Williams. With Jacksonville and Cleveland on deck at home, they could survive the Johnson injury by entering their Week 11 bye at 7-3 or 6-4.
7. San Diego Chargers (4-2, 6th last week): Losing in an early cross-country road game against a very talented playoff team is nothing to be ashamed of, but something’s not quite right with Philip Rivers this year.
8. Baltimore Ravens (4-2, 3rd last week): Are you kidding me? Unacceptable, Ray Rice and Joe Flacco. Unacceptable.
9. Atlanta Falcons (4-3, 13th last week): The third down defense smartened up by completely shutting down Detroit on the road. The D did a fantastic job against Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, providing a blueprint for defensive coordinators going forward.
10. Detroit Lions (5-2, 5th last week): Did we overreact to Detroit’s fast start? If defenses are indeed able to control Calvin Johnson, how good are the Lions? Now they have to go on the road for back-to-back tough games against Denver and Chicago. They follow that up with Carolina, Green Bay and New Orleans, so there’s little room for error.
11. Buffalo Bills (4-2, 8th last week): Might they finally win a regular-season game in Toronto? Coming off a bye, the Bills are a 6-point favorite at “home” against a struggling and banged-up Redskins team.
12. Oakland Raiders (4-3, 9th last week): The good news is that the division-leading Chargers lost and the Raiders will have two weeks to prepare Carson Palmer for his first start against a so-so Denver defense before a big matchup with San Diego. The bad news is that fellow division opponents Kansas City and Denver won and are speeding in the rear-view mirror.
13. Chicago Bears (4-3, 20th last week): Despite myriad issues last season, they found a way to win the division, get into the playoffs and land in the NFC championship game. I’m starting to believe they have what it takes to pull off a similar feat in 2011.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3, 10th last week): Now they wave goodbye to another running back (and starting fullback) Earnest Graham. The schedule’s tough and Josh Freeman is having serious problems. This doesn’t look like a playoff team at all, especially in the tough NFC South.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2, 14th last week): It’s unsurprisingly hard to think of things to say about teams coming off bye weeks. And so I’ve decided to fill this space with that statement, and this explanation.
16. New York Jets (4-3, 21st last week): If — if — Shonn Greene and Plaxico Burress can finally get it going consistently, it’ll change everything for the Jets, as we saw Sunday against San Diego.
17. Dallas Cowboys (3-3, 17th last week): We begin our weekly run through the impossible-to-predict NFC East with the Cowboys, who predictably dismantled the Rams Sunday. The winner of this week’s Dallas-Philadelphia game will likely become the division favorite at the midway pole.
18. New York Giants (4-2, 18th last week): Everyone will call them the NFC East fave after they presumably hammer Miami at home, but then look how the somewhat depleted Giants have to finish the season: New England, San Fran, Philly, New Orleans, Green Bay, Dallas, Washington, New York Jets and Dallas. And only four of those games are at home.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4, 19th last week): I still think they can win nine games, which just might be enough to win the division.
20. Carolina Panthers (2-5, 22nd last week): Despite being 2-5, they’ve only given up 17 more points than they’ve scored. It’s amazing how much better they are than last season. A lot of that is on Cam Newton, who has revitalized Steve Smith’s career. But give new head coach Ron Rivera some credit, too.
21. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3, 24th last week): Somehow, someway, they’ve won three straight games despite not having three of their best players in Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry. If they can somehow beat the Chargers at home Monday night, Todd Haley has to be talked about as a coach of the year candidate.
22. Washington Redskins (3-3, 16th last week): After an impressive performance against the Giants in Week 1, Washington has gone 2-3 with a one-point win over the terrible Cardinals and a seven-point victory over the even-worse Rams. Now injuries are killing them too, and the schedule only gets tougher.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5, 29th last week): Where’d that come from? Suddenly, Jaguars-Texans in Week 8 becomes very interesting, especially if Jacksonville is suddenly finding out how to stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback. They already have more sacks this year than they had in 2009 or 2010.
24. Tennessee Titans (3-3, 15th last week): They’ve been outscored 79-24 in back-to-back blowout losses to teams they might have to battle with for playoff spots in December. Looks like the hot start was a mirage.
25. Seattle Seahawks (2-4, 23rd last week): How sad is it that they’re the only team with any shot at all to catch San Francisco in the NFC West?
26. Cleveland Browns (3-3, 26th last week): Their three wins have come against 0-7 Indy, 0-6 Miami and 2-4 Seattle.
27. Denver Broncos (2-4, 30th last week): They were outplayed by the winless Dolphins for 55 minutes. Tim Tebow is a clutch performer, but the Broncos won’t get away with that kind of play against real NFL teams.
28. Minnesota Vikings (1-6, 31st last week): So long as Adrian Peterson is playing at an All-Pro level, Christian Ponder will survive the early stages.
29. Arizona Cardinals (1-5, 25th last week): Losers of five straight and now they run into angry birds in Baltimore. And no Beanie Wells. Things could get ugly for Kevin Kolb.
30. Miami Dolphins (0-6, 27th last week): The defense can only do so much to cover up for the worst third down offense in the NFL. And it doesn’t help that only Philly and Pittsburgh have worse turnover differentials.
31. Indianapolis Colts (0-7, 28th last week): The Colts have been outscored by 114 points.
32. St. Louis (0-6, 32nd last week): And the Rams have been outscored by 115. Poor St. Louis goes from a matchup with the top-ranked Packers to one with the third-ranked and red-hot Saints.