24. Atlanta Falcons (1-4) ▼6
How was this team 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC just nine months ago? The offense is fine, but lacks explosion even with the steady play of Tony Gonzalez. More importantly, they can’t stop anybody, and they’re a mess along the lines on both sides of the ball. This season is already on life support, and it’s time to break the glass for the panic button. It’s good that they get the dysfunctional Bucs next week, because they need some kind of positive momentum in a big way.
23. Washington Redskins (1-3) ▲2
This team has more issues than just the health of Robert Griffin III, but a bye week can’t hurt anything, if only to give them extra time to prepare for a suddenly formidable-looking Cowboys team. They might be getting up to speed, and the Dallas game could be for first place in the division. Yes, really.
22. Oakland Raiders (2-3) ▲5
Difficult as it is to believe, Terrelle Pryor — Al Davis’ final draft pick — might actually be an NFL quarterback. If that’s true, they might actually produce a quality product in Oakland. There is a lot of athleticism on this team, and while they withered a bit late against the Chargers, they came up big when it counted, thanks in no small part to veteran Charles Woodson. I’m not sure this is a playoff team this year, but I’m also not sure it isn’t. The AFC is wide open, and head coach Dennis Allen might just have this team on the right track.
21. Minnesota Vikings (1-3) ▲1
They have to be happy with the way the rest of the NFC North fell during their off week. By not playing, they actually gained a half-game on the rest of the division. On top of that, the biggest question mark on the team may have been alleviated with the signing of Josh Freeman. On the flip side, nobody knows what they’ll get out of Freeman or how soon he’ll play, and the defense is still suspect (and that’s being polite).
20. San Diego Chargers (2-3) ▼6
What was that? This team was supposed to be building momentum coming off a big win against Dallas. Philip Rivers was supposed to be back on track. They got absolutely manhandled by the Raiders, Ryan Mathews’ suffered a concussion, and Rivers just threw the ball right to the defense in crunch time. In a shockingly powerful AFC West, the Chargers might be jockeying for last place.
19. Arizona Cardinals (3-2) ▲2
Those who were hoping Carson Palmer could bring the Cardinals into a Kurt Warner-esque Renaissance can probably stop hoping. He’s serviceable, no better. The Cardinals beat the Panthers in spite of Palmer’s performance, not because of it. Still, they play solid defense, and Andre Ellington is a budding star. That alone is enough to win them some games. They’re suddenly a game out of first place in the NFC West, but does anyone outside of Arizona believe they’ll compete for it?
18. New York Jets (3-2) ▲6
Well, it’s another tough loss for the rebuilding J… wait, they won? Actually, Gang Green posted what looked like a domination of the smoldering remnants of the Atlanta Falcons. Geno Smith is getting better with each game, and shut down the turnovers completely in this game. Sheldon Richardson is putting together an All-Pro-caliber season, and the Jets are over .500 and a game out of first in the AFC East. Go figure.
17. Dallas Cowboys (2-3) NC
Tony Romo played the best game of his career, set a bunch of Cowboys team records, and still managed to give the game away on an interception. It’s pretty much the worst way the game could have ended for him. Still, give Romo credit for a stellar day. He’s the only reason the Cowboys were tied at 48 points before the interception. It’s impossible to drop them after coming so close to taking down the Broncos.