The Patriots experienced some unconventional early-season setbacks, dropping games to the Jets and Broncos. But with two consecutive blowouts against hapless, winless and largely hopeless squads, the perennially contending New Englanders are back where they ought to be among the league's top title hopefuls.
Of course, there are other teams willing to fight the Patriots for the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl, and, frankly, there are teams with more impressive resumes to this point in the season.
Where do the Pats stand? Check out this week's NFL Power Rankings, where we run through each NFL team from best to worst.
1. New Orleans Saints
(6-0, first in NFC South)
Overcoming a 21-point deficit against the underrated Dolphins was impressive. Scoring 46 points in doing so was even more impressive. New Orleans' offense is unstoppable when it's functioning properly.
2. Indianapolis Colts
(6-0, first in AFC South)
Another ho-hum blowout of a crummy team. Still, Peyton Manning has to be the front-runner for the NFL MVP award.
3. Denver Broncos
(6-0, first in AFC West)
They had a bye in Week 7, but the Broncos continue to be the most surprising team in the NFL.
4. New England Patriots
(5-2, first in AFC East)
Another routine blowout of a crummy team. When Wes Welker is in the lineup and Tom Brady is hitting his receivers, this offense is awfully impressive. The New England defense, especially the secondary, is really starting to come around, too. It has allowed seven points over the past two weeks combined.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
(5-2, tied for first in AFC North)
Ben Roethlisberger had his worst game of the season so far, but the Steelers still managed to top the previously undefeated Vikings on Sunday. Pittsburgh's defense is playing better and better, which is no surprise given that injured Troy Polamalu was in the lineup for the second straight tilt.
6. Minnesota Vikings
(6-1, first in NFC North)
It's tough to get too upset about a loss to the defending Super Bowl champs. Adrian Peterson was still lights-out and had arguably the best run of the year so far, flattening Steelers corner William Gay in the process.
7. New York Giants
(5-2, first in NFC East)
The Giants were bad for the second straight week, falling to the Cardinals on Sunday. Their offense, even Eli Manning, has failed to execute and their defense has been a bit more porous.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
(5-2, tied for first in AFC North)
The second most surprising team in the league behind the Broncos, the Bengals are getting terrific production from Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson and Chad Ochocinco, all of whom were largely given up for dead heading into the season.
9. Arizona Cardinals
(4-2, first in NFC West)
Ah, yes … now this is the team that made it to the Super Bowl last February. Kurt Warner could have a lot of fun the rest of the way if Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston stay healthy.
10. Green Bay Packers
(4-2, second in NFC North)
The Pack have had two laughers in a row against the Lions and Browns, but Green Bay will take on the division-rival Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau.
11. Dallas Cowboys
(4-2, tied for second in NFC East)
Tony Romo tossed three touchdown passes in the Boys' big win over the Falcons. Newly wealthy DeMarcus Ware earned every penny of his deal, sacking Matt Ryan twice.
12. Atlanta Falcons
(4-2, second in NFC South)
Despite the Dirty Birds' terrific start to the campaign, Sunday's loss in Dallas coupled with the upcoming Monday night tilt in New Orleans could spell midseason slump.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
(4-2, tied for second in NFC East)
When they're on, Donovan McNabb, new target DeSean Jackson and the Eagles' offense look dangerous. When they're not, they lose to the Raiders. Talk to me when you've beaten a decent team, Philly.
14. New York Jets
(4-3, second in AFC East)
Nothing like a trip to Oakland to end a three-game losing skid. The Jets' running game looks ridiculous, even without the fun-to-watch Leon Washington, which is a good thing since quarterback Mark Sanchez has fallen back to earth in recent weeks.
15. Houston Texans
(4-3, second in AFC South)
They may be ranked just 15th, but this is a dangerous team that's been playing well. The offense can be dominant — quarterback Matt Schaub is the league's leader in passing yardage — and is holding its collective breath that Andre Johnson isn't seriously hurt.
16. Baltimore Ravens
(3-3, third in AFC North)
After getting off to a 3-0 start then abruptly dropping their next three, a bye week may be just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Ravens defense.
17. San Diego Chargers
(3-3, second in AFC West)
Much like the Eagles above, the Chargers can look terrific when they're on, Philip Rivers especially (though LaDainian Tomlinson is playing like a shell of his former self). But talk to me when you win a game against a .500-or-better team.
18. San Francisco 49ers
(3-3, second in NFC West)
The Niners also got off to a roaring start, only to falter in recent weeks. We'll see if a change behind center to former starter Alex Smith helps on Sunday against the mighty Colts.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars
(3-3, third in AFC South)
David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew can really bring it when they're on. But the Jags' pass defense is among the league's worst. So after a bye, this on-again, off-again squad travels to Nashville to take on the winless Titans on Sunday. They have to be favored … right?
20. Chicago Bears
(3-3, third in NFC North)
Not too many outside of Cincinnati would have foreseen the Bears losing 45-10 this past weekend. But if Jay Cutler continues to throw passes to the team wearing the other color and the atypically anemic Chicago defense continues to allow touchdown passes like they're going out of style, the setbacks could continue in the Windy City.
21. Miami Dolphins
(2-4, fourth in AFC East)
For the first half, the Dolphins looked like the team that was going to be the first to knock off the unbeaten Saints. In the second half, their defense looked like a Pop Warner team. Whatever the case, Miami's offense, even with Chad Henne behind center, is awfully fun to watch.
22. Buffalo Bills
(3-4, third in AFC East)
Backup quarterback and Harvard alum Ryan Fitzpatrick has brought with him two straight wins. But will he keep the starting gig when Trent Edwards returns from his concussion-induced vacation?
23. Seattle Seahawks
(2-4, third in NFC West)
In their next four games, the struggling Seahawks play the Cowboys, Cardinals and Vikings on the road — with a home matchup against the Lions thrown in for good measure. It could get worse in Seattle before it gets a whole lot better.
24. Carolina Panthers
(2-4, third in NFC South)
It continues to boggle my mind that the Panthers' brass continues to stick with Jake Delhomme and his four-touchdown-to-13-interception ratio. DeAngelo Williams is a darned fine running back, but he needs a quarterback who can loosen up the opposing defense a bit.
25. Washington Redskins
(2-5, fourth in NFC East)
Oh yeah, sure, bringing in Sherm Lewis to call the plays is going to make all the difference in the world. GM Vinny Cerrato must have forgotten that Jason Campbell is still his starting quarterback. Losing entertaining tight end Chris Cooley for an extended period won't help matters.
26. Oakland Raiders
(2-5, third in AFC West)
Seriously? There are six teams in the NFL rated below the Raiders? Their defense has been pretty poor, but this is truly one of the ugliest offenses to grace the pro ranks in quite some time.
27. Detroit Lions
(1-5, fourth in NFC North)
Matthew Stafford was back at practice this week as the Lions prep for the Rams. … But wait, seriously?! There are five teams in the NFL rated below the Lions? Seriously, folks, Detroit should have a second win well within its grasp Sunday at Ford Field.
28. Kansas City Chiefs
(1-6, fourth in AFC West)
Larry Johnson's season had to come to a head at some point. Of course, the Chiefs hoped it would be on the field instead of on his Twitter page.
29. Cleveland Browns
(1-6, fourth in AFC North)
According to the Browns' team report on Yahoo, "Derek Anderson has a near-inexplicable hold on the Browns' starting quarterback job." Despite having the worst quarterback rating in the league — a shiny 40.6 — Anderson will start Sunday in Chicago, according to coach Eric Mangini. "[Anderson] gives us the best chance right now to move the ball," Mangini said. That's got to hurt if you're Brady Quinn.
30. Tennessee Titans
(0-6, fourth in AFC South)
Coming off their best result of the season so far — a bye week — there's talk that Vince Young could get the starting call behind center moving forward. Good idea? Discuss amongst yourselves.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(0-7, fourth in NFC South)
The Bucs are a bad team all over the field. Word is, rookie quarterback Josh Freeman will get his first NFL start after their bye week on Nov. 8 against the Packers.
32. St. Louis Rams
(0-7, fourth in NFC West)
Just when you think it can't get any worse … you lose 42-6. Just wait, Rams fans: You're hosting the Saints on Nov. 15.
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