NFL Power Rankings, Week 8: NFC teams claim five of the top six slots

The NFC rules the pro football world as the 2021 season approaches its midpoint.

The Cardinals sit at No. 1 in the NFL Power Rankings for the third time in the last four weeks, with four of the five teams beneath Arizona also coming out of the National Football Conference.

Two of those NFC powers -- the Cards and Packers -- will meet on Thursday night. I will watch that game. You should, too.

Let's get to it.

Watch the NFL Power Rankings show with Dan and Matt "Money" Smith every Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET on NFL Network.

NOTE: Up/down arrows reflect movement from the Week 7 NFL Power Rankings.

Previous rank: No. 1

With their marquee matchup against the Packers days away, the schedule makers did the Cardinals a favor with a nice tune-up against the worst team in football. Arizona took care of business against Houston in a game that showcased the Cards' newest weapon. Zach Ertz recorded a 47-yard touchdown catch, a career-long score that showed the tight end still has some juice in his legs. Last year, Kliff Kingsbury's offense too often felt like it was Kyler-to-Nuk or bust. Now, Arizona is getting contributions from Hopkins, yes, but also A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, Christian Kirk ... and Ertz, a former Super Bowl hero who looks like a man with something to prove.

Previous rank: No. 3

Bucs stars come at you in waves. The Bears were lucky enough to miss Rob Gronkowski (ribs) and Antonio Brown (ankle) on Sunday, but they still had to contend with Mike Evans (three touchdowns), Chris Godwin (111 yards, TD) and the running game (182 yards and a score) in a 38-3 Tampa Bay romp. Tom Brady didn't even play a particularly good game by his lofty standards, but the G.O.A.T. still tossed four touchdowns without an interception, becoming the first quarterback to throw 600 TD passes in NFL history. The champs are humming, with a key division matchup against the Saints on deck. 

Buffalo Bills

Previous rank: No. 2

When Josh Allen was stuffed on fourth-and-short to clinch a frustrating 34-31 loss to the Titans in Week 6, it put the spotlight on a perplexing issue concerning the AFC East leaders: Why is this loaded offense struggling to tally touchdowns in the red zone? Buffalo is scoring nearly 34 points per game, but the team is 26th in red-zone TD conversion. No team in football made more trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line in the season's first six weeks, but the Bills punched it into the end zone only 55.2 percent of the time. That's down from the 62 percent clip Buffalo posted in its gangbusters 2020 rampage through the league. One can assume this issue was thoroughly investigated during the bye week.

Dallas Cowboys

Previous rank: No. 4

Life was good for the 5-1 Cowboys as they reached their Week 7 bye, even if Dak Prescott's calf injury presents an ominous cloud above The Star. Prescott suffered the injury on the final play of Dallas' Week 6 overtime win over the Patriots, and despite positive reports, ongoing concern is warranted. The Cowboys are essentially playing without a safety net: The team's backup behind Prescott is none other than ... checks notes ... Cooper Rush, the 27-year-old undrafted free agent who has completed one pass (for 2 yards) in five professional seasons. Considering the nature of Prescott's season-ending injury in 2020, should the Cowboys have made a greater effort to retain Andy Dalton in the offseason? Were Prescott to have a setback, could Dalton return before the trade deadline?

Los Angeles Rams

Previous rank: No. 7

Sean McVay was staring down a nightmare postgame press conference -- until his biggest defensive stars rode in to save the day. With the Lions driving for the lead late in the fourth quarter, Aaron Donald crashed through the offensive line and forced an early throw from old friend Jared Goff, who was picked off by Jalen Ramsey to seal a 28-19 win at Hollywood Park. Before that play, McVay had watched his Rams struggle to put away a winless Lions team that was completely fearless in its game strategy. Detroit successfully executed a surprise onside kick and two fake punts, but Los Angeles still found a way, thanks to Donald and Ramsey. Having a team of plucky fighters is good ... being in possession of superstars is better.

Previous rank: No. 6

The Packers have now won six straight since their ugly Week 1 defeat to Saints, but this still doesn't feel like a team firing on all cylinders. Green Bay was badly outgained by a middling Washington squad that could have scored one of the biggest upsets of the season had it executed better in the red zone. The Packers deserve credit for getting those big stops in close, of course, but Matt LaFleur's group will need to be better when the competition stiffens. That comes Thursday with a road matchup against the undefeated Cardinals -- a challenge that becomes far more imposing if Davante Adams (reserve/COVID-19 list) is unable to suit up.

Previous rank: No. 11

That right there was a Statement Win™. The Bengals rolled into Baltimore and sent thousands of once-confident Ravens fans at M&T Bank Stadium streaming to the exits by the fourth quarter of a 41-17 triumph that makes us reconsider everything in the AFC North. Cincinnati has moved into a tie with Baltimore atop the division. and none of this feels unsustainable, with Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase producing at historic levels together. From the NFL Research team: Chase (35/754/6) has the most receiving yards by any player through his first seven career games in NFL history. It's still not too late to delete your "They should have taken Penei Sewell!" takes on social media. Scrub away! Save your Smart Football Internet Person reputation! 

Baltimore Ravens

Previous rank: No. 5

The Ravens hit their bye at 5-2, a strong record good enough for a tie atop the AFC North. Given the injury epidemic in Baltimore, this feels something close to a best-case scenario. But the nature of Sunday's loss to the Bengals -- a 41-17 shellacking at home -- is sure to prompt difficult questions at team headquarters. Are the Ravens, with their depth concerns and inconsistencies, quietly vulnerable in a division that suddenly houses a rising power in Western Ohio? The Ravens were badly outscored and outgained by the Bengals -- Cincinnati was the more physical team, as well. The off week began with a wake-up call. Or was it a warning siren? 

Previous rank: No. 8

OK, so Justin Herbert stunk up the joint two Sundays ago in Baltimore, as did the rest of his Chargers teammates in a game to forget. The question becomes this: Was it simply a bad week -- or do teams now have a playbook on how to stop the Bolts? The Chargers' offense could use improvement in early-down situations. More work is needed on the defensive side, which is surprising, considering Brandon Staley's pedigree upon taking this head-coaching job. Los Angeles ranked 19th in defensive DVOA heading into Monday Night Football and is one of the worst teams in football against the run. The Chargers are good -- potentially great -- but they remain under construction.

Tennessee Titans

Previous rank: No. 10

Just over three weeks ago, the Titans were embarrassed by the Jets, and the AFC South looked like a division that would produce a sub-.500 champion. Cut to late Sunday afternoon: Over seven days, Mike Vrabel's team knocked off the Bills and Chiefs -- both participants in January's AFC Championship Game. Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown once again paced the offense in Week 7, while Harold Landry led a Tennessee defense that made Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's vaunted attack look vulnerable and weak. A win this week in Indianapolis will put the AFC South on lock before the calendar flips to November. Change happens fast in the NFL.

Las Vegas Raiders

Previous rank: No. 15

The Bisaccia Bump is real! The Raiders improved to 2-0 since Rich Bisaccia took over as interim coach, and you can argue that Las Vegas' best two games of the season -- their most complete efforts, anyway -- have come with Jon Gruden sitting on a couch in parts unknown. Derek Carr was simply brilliant against the Eagles, completing 31 of 34 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns. The quarterback's dominance was even more impressive considering star tight end Darren Waller was scratched before the game with knee and ankle issues. The MVP field is lousy with superstars having career years, but Carr absolutely deserves to be in the conversation right now. He's been one of the best players in the league.

Previous rank: No. 12

Drew Brees sat in with Peyton and Eli on ESPN’s Manningcast on Monday night, and you could tell the Saints legend was struggling to find the words as we watched the ever-erratic Jameis Winston run Brees' old offense at Lumen Field. Winston wasn’t great, but luckily he had Alvin Kamara to carry the load. Kamara was the best player on the field, finishing with 10 catches, 179 yards of total offense and a touchdown. The Saints have never been so dependent on their superstar running back -- take him out of the mix and it all falls apart.

Cleveland Browns

Previous rank: No. 13

The Browns probably have quality NFL running backs stuck between couch cushions at team headquarters. Third-stringer D'Ernest Johnson stepped up on Thursday night, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown in a 17-14 win over the Broncos. The shifty back should remain in the mix even when Nick Chubb returns to the lineup. Meanwhile, Case Keenum got the victory in his first start in Cleveland -- could Keenum make the, um, case to stay in the lineup if he thrives in another start? Kevin Stefanski is a big fan of the veteran, a fact undoubtedly on Baker Mayfield's mind as the starter is sidelined with a seriously fouled-up left shoulder. (UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that Mayfield has been cleared to play and is expected to start vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday.)

Kansas City Chiefs

Previous rank: No. 9

This was a Sunday of red flags ... and not the kind team personnel race across the field after touchdowns at Arrowhead. The Chiefs were down 24-0 before a pass rusher sniffed Ryan Tannehill. The Patrick Mahomes-led offense didn't convert its first third down until 12:46 remained in the game. And then there was the most somber of all scenes for Chiefs fans: Down 27-3, late in the third quarter and facing fourth-and-forever, Andy Reid sent out Harrison Butker to attempt a 57-yard field goal. Butker, like the rest of the Chiefs on Sunday, didn't come close. There are too many special players involved to count out K.C. -- but this is no longer a case of working out the kinks. The Chiefs have reached a crisis point.

Minnesota Vikings

Previous rank: No. 14

On a recent edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, we probed Vikings beat reporter Arif Hasan on the relationship between Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins. The tension between the head coach and starting quarterback seems palpable at times, but Hasan asserted that any frustrations with Cousins as a QB (or teammate) are largely negated by his play. The veteran might not ever inspire lengthy monologues about his leadership abilities, but he stacks numbers, year after year. The production will sneak up on you: In 58 games as Minnesota's starter, Cousins has completed over 69 percent of his 1,805 attempts for 104 touchdowns and just 31 interceptions. His passer rating of 103.9 over that span represents the production of a star. Why don't we see him that way?

Indianapolis Colts

Previous rank: No. 18

They don't play a particularly pretty brand of football, but the Colts don't mind rolling in the mud. We saw that on Sunday night in soggy Santa Clara, where Indianapolis scored a 30-18 win over the 49ers to remain within striking distance of the red-hot Titans in the AFC South. Jonathan Taylor has now gone over 100 scrimmage yards in four straight games, while Carson Wentz made big plays down the stretch -- none bigger than the 28-yard fourth-quarter touchdown strike to Michael Pittman that iced the Niners. A Week 8 showdown with the Titans at Lucas Oil Field will have massive implications in the division.

Previous rank: No. 16

The Steelers reached their bye at 3-3 and look like the epitome of the 8-8 team (or 9-8 or 8-9 whatever) as we creep toward November. Rising above mediocrity will take Herculian performances from their best players: Ben Roethlisberger has to be better than a game manager, while T.J. Watt must continue to play like a Defensive Player Of The Year frontrunner. An X-factor is running back Najee Harris, who's come on strong in recent weeks. The first-round rookie leads the team in receptions, is in the top 10 in the league in rushing attempts and has handled his blocking assignments. If Pittsburgh's offensive line gives him more room to operate, he'll leap into the Offensive Rookie Of The Year conversation. 

Previous rank: No. 21

He'll never acknowledge it publicly, but nothing brings Bill Belichick more pure joy than embarrassing the New York Jets. His Patriots did it again on Sunday, pouring it on Robert Saleh's team in a 54-13 win that ended a four-game losing streak at Gillette Stadium. Led by the already ever-steady Mac Jones, the Patriots scored on nine of their 10 possessions, not counting kneel-downs. "We finally kind of saw a little bit of a result that was good, and we've just got to stick to the formula and stick to the process," said Jones, now a fully programmed and operational soldier of Patriot Way.

Previous rank: No. 17

The Kyle Shanahan Defenders Society is always armed with a good excuse or two, and the miserable conditions at Levi's Stadium on Sunday night qualify as solid cover. But it's results that ultimately matter most, and the 49ers are 2-4 and 4.5 games behind the NFC West-leading Cardinals before Halloween. How does Shanahan fix this mess? It probably starts with a change at quarterback, a position the 2021 version of Jimmy Garoppolo seems unable to play at a satisfactory level. After the 30-18 setback to the Colts, Shanahan said he would "guess" Garoppolo starts in Week 8, but Jimmy G's continued first-string status is now completely tied to the health of Trey Lance, currently rehabbing a sprained knee.

Atlanta Falcons

Previous rank: No. 25

Matt Ryan and Kyle Pitts are officially a thing. The veteran quarterback and rookie phenom connected repeatedly on Sunday, including on two vital completions to set up Younghoe Koo's game-winner in a 30-28 victory over the Dolphins in Miami. It's hard to describe how different Pitts is: On the 28-yarder that put Atlanta in field-goal range in the final minutes, Pitts lined up on the outside against Xavien Howard, an All-Pro ballhawk who regularly shuts down No. 1 wideouts. Pitts beat Howard by a half step, then used his size to come down with the catch. Pitts' performance the last two weeks (16/282/1) backs up the pre-draft hype that positioned the former Florida standout as a generational talent.

Denver Broncos

Previous rank: No. 20

To quote the late, great Thomas Earl Petty, the Broncos are free fallin', out into nothin'. The 3-0 start has given way to four consecutive losses and the general sense that Denver is a middling team no closer to serious contention than it was a year ago with Drew Lock behind center. Teddy Bridgewater isn't the sole reason for the Broncos' month-long slump, but he's proving once again that he's simply not a dynamic presence under center. If all the Broncos needed was a game manager, Teddy Two Gloves would be a perfect fit. But with Denver's talented defense not living up to expectations, Vic Fangio needs a difference-maker at QB. Teddy ain't it.

Seattle Seahawks

Previous rank: No. 22

Geno Smith’s first completion in a pivotal Monday Night Football matchup against the Saints went for 84 yards and a touchdown to DK Metcalf. Every Smith completion thereafter combined for 83 yards. Yes, the GenoCoaster was fully operational in a damaging 13-10 loss that leaves the Seahawks’ season perilously close to careening off the rails. It’s a shame, too, as Seattle’s maligned defense held up well against New Orleans. Now 0-3 at home for the first time since 1992, the Seahawks will need a serious run to make the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years. Get well soon, DangeRuss.

Chicago Bears

Previous rank: No. 23

You have to squint hard to find positives to take out of Sunday's 38-3 loss to the Bucs. The Bears were outclassed in all facets -- unable to slow down Tom Brady and a parade of Tampa Bay playmakers, while the offense couldn't get out of its own way in a five-turnover showing. Justin Fields was responsible for all five of those giveaways (three INTs and two lost fumbles), but head coach Matt Nagy was right to keep his rookie signal-caller under center for the duration of the blowout. The 2021 Bears are not a Super Bowl contender -- they're not a playoff team, either -- so let Fields get the necessary experience and live with the good, the bad and the (very) ugly.

New York Giants

Previous rank: No. 27

Daniel Jones continues to be an extremely difficult evaluation subject for the Giants. The former first-round pick regularly produces at a mundane level from a counting-stats perspective, but he still passes the eye test as a difference-maker as a passer and runner. Sometimes as a receiver, too: His acrobatic one-handed catch in the third quarter of Sunday's 25-3 win over the Panthers was the biggest highlight of New York's only real touchdown drive of the day. The Giants are a team seemingly headed for a hard reboot, but cutting ties with Jones still feels like a move that could backfire.

Carolina Panthers

Previous rank: No. 19

The Panthers will stick with Sam Darnold for now, because Sam Darnold's backup is P.J. Walker, and P.J. Walker isn't playing at Temple anymore. Matt Rhule has boxed himself into a corner: It's becoming apparent he's whiffed on his hand-picked starting QB for the second straight year, and the coach has no escape hatch ... for now, anyway. After Sunday's ugly 25-3 loss to the Giants, reports surfaced that the Panthers are "evaluating their pursuit of a franchise quarterback," and Carolina is expected to be involved in trade discussions for Deshaun Watson. The legal entanglements of Watson will likely keep him out of action no matter where he's employed at the Nov. 2 trade deadline, but Carolina looks ready to make a major push for another hard-reset QB.

Previous rank: No. 24

Loved this stat from NBC Sports Edge (via John Daigle): Jalen Hurts has scored 43.4 percent of his fantasy points in the fourth quarter this season. Nobody Cares About Your Fantasy Team, but that data gives us an idea of what's really happening with the Eagles' offense beneath the solid counting stats for the second-year quarterback. This is an offense that regularly sleepwalks through the first three quarters of games before making it respectable in garbage time. The inconsistency of the attack shouldn't be put at the feet of Hurts alone, but would it be entirely shocking if Nick Sirianni turned to newly elevated backup Gardner Minshew to juice Philly's offense when the outcome is still undecided? Hurts doesn't have the draft pedigree or (seemingly) the organizational support to remain the locked-and-loaded QB1.

Previous rank: No. 26

The Football Team outgained the Packers by 126 yards (430-304) and played -- by far -- their best defensive game of the season ... yet still found themselves on the wrong side of a double-digit defeat thanks to two crushing failures in the third quarter. Taylor Heinicke's overturned TD was highway robbery that should be addressed by the Common Sense Police (or, at least the Competition Committee in the offseason), but there was no excuse for the back-to-back fourth-down failures near the goal line that spelled doom at Lambeau Field. There were plenty of positives to take out of Sunday, but there hasn't been a more frustrating loss this season for Ron Rivera's team.

Previous rank: No. 28

Trevor Lawrence hasn’t taken the NFL by storm after coming into the league as the most heralded rookie QB since Andrew Luck, but the arrow is definitely pointing up for the No. 1 overall pick. Lawrence made several big plays in leading the Jaguars to their first win of the season two Sundays ago in London, and he has shown steady week-to-week improvement. His gains against an NFL pass rush were evident against the Dolphins: According to Next Gen Stats, Lawrence threw for 117 yards when pressured in Week 6. He had just 276 yards total when under duress in Jacksonville’s first five games. The kid can play.

Miami Dolphins

Previous rank: No. 29

The Dolphins suffered another loss in crushing, last-second fashion, and their playoff chances have virtually vanished before the season reaches its midpoint. We now enter Evaluation Time in Miami, and that starts with Tua Tagovailoa. As the uncomfortable Dashuan Watson trade rumors continue to swirl around the organization, Tua put together a solid performance against the Falcons -- his second straight promising showing since coming off the injured list. Yes, there were two gnarly turnovers that factored into the loss, but Tagovailoa has flashed since his return. Do the Dolphins really want to cash out now and get into the Watson business?

Detroit Lions

Previous rank: No. 31

The Lions aren’t talented, but they are gutsy and they play their hearts out every week for Dan Campbell. Jared Goff’s late interception doomed Detroit to another painful loss on Sunday in Los Angeles, but hanging tough for four quarters against a Super Bowl contender like the Rams counts as progress in Detroit. Campbell’s performance was admirable, as well -- the coach called for an early onside kick and two fake punts, with all three trick plays ending with a successful outcome. To have all that go right and still lose is frustrating, but the Lions don’t feel like a hopeless 0-7. The losses continue to mount, but the fight remains strong.

New York Jets

Previous rank: No. 30

Getting embarrassed by the Patriots isn’t a new development for the Jets, but it was at least understandable when Tom Brady was the New England quarterback. Getting lit up by a 54-13 score in the Mac Jones era is a level of dysfunction entering into the realm of the indefensible. It was New York’s most lopsided loss since 2010 and the most points the team had allowed in 42 years. To make matters worse, Zach Wilson exited with a knee injury that will keep him on the shelf for several weeks and necessitated the return of Joe Flacco. Robert Saleh was brought in to change a culture of losing that’s permeated the franchise for nearly a decade. So far, no good. 

Houston Texans

Previous rank: No. 32

Tyrod Taylor returned to practice, but that’s not the quarterback who will garner headlines around the Texans this week. The trade deadline is next Tuesday, and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday morning Deshaun Watson is expected to be moved before that date. There appear to be multiple suitors interested in Watson, which goes to show you just how much some NFL teams are willing to overlook if it means landing a Pro Bowl quarterback in his physical prime. Moving Watson now would represent a best-case scenario for the Texans: They’d acquire a slew of premium draft picks while unloading the toxicity connected to their former franchise star. A win-win at the highest level.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter.

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