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NFL power rankings, Week 8: Chargers break top five, while Redskins and Panthers move up

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Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. This week, it’s about the jockeying for position below the Rams, Saints, Patriots and Chiefs, who have remained locked into the top four spots.

1. Los Angeles Rams (8-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1

The Rams were very good and very lucky in the win over the Packers while playing in what amounted to Lambeau West. They are a legitimate threat to go unbeaten but a major test looms with Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

2. New Orleans Saints (6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2

It was interesting how the Saints went about beating the Vikings. QB Drew Brees didn’t throw for many yards. The running game was decent but not overwhelming. The defense was very opportunistic, forcing two key Minnesota turnovers. It is becoming a whatever-it-takes season for the Saints, and that could serve them well this weekend against the Rams.

3. New England Patriots (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3

The Patriots struggled for three quarters Monday night in Buffalo but broke things open in the fourth quarter, aided by a TD by their defense. They have a short week to prepare for Sunday’s game at home against the Packers, only the second career meeting between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as starters (Rodgers also faced the Patriots and Brady once in relief of an injured Brett Favre).

4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4

QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs just kept cruising with the victory at home over the Broncos. At this point, the surprise isn’t that Mahomes threw for 303 yards and four TDs; it was that he threw an interception.

5. Los Angeles Chargers (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6

So the Chargers aren’t the only L.A. team that plays virtual road games at home. Should they be somehow comforted by the fact that the Rams had to face a pro-Packers crowd Sunday?

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 7

The Steelers should welcome back RB Le’Veon Bell if he shows up after Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline. That doesn’t mean putting him back into the lineup immediately and forgetting about his replacement, James Conner. But Bell and Conner could be an effective tandem, and the Steelers need to improve if they’re going to challenge the Patriots, Chiefs and Chargers.

The Steelers are in first place with James Conner. What happens if Le’Veon Bell returns?

7. Washington Redskins (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 9

The defense and the running of ageless wonder Adrian Peterson mean the Redskins are for real. But can Peterson play at this level all season? That remains to be seen.

8. Carolina Panthers (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 10

The Panthers are the contender generating perhaps the least attention and buzz. No one seems very excited about them. But QB Cam Newton is getting it done, and the triumph over the Ravens cements their status as a viable NFC threat. Their two December games against the Saints could be telling as to how legitimate they actually are.

Cam Newton may be overlooked, but he’s still one of the NFL’s best

9. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12

The victory over the Jaguars in London does not mean that all is well and everything is fixed for the Eagles. After all, beating the Jaguars has not exactly been a major feat lately. But it’s far better for the Eagles than it would have been if they’d lost, and the defending champs at least reached the .500 mark halfway through their season.

10. Houston Texans (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 13

The Texans look like the AFC South’s only legitimate team. QB Deshaun Watson is thriving. J.J. Watt is back to playing like an NFL defensive player of the year candidate. The Texans have had a mini-bye to rest following Thursday night’s triumph over the Dolphins, and now comes consecutive road games at Denver and Washington.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 15

The narrow victory over the Bucs ended a two-game losing skid and upped the Bengals’ record to 5-3 at the season’s halfway point, but it did little to enforce any belief that this is a team worthy of being trusted.

12. Chicago Bears (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 16

The Bears beat the Jets with Khalil Mack on the inactive list. That says more about the Jets than it does about the Bears.

13. Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5

The Vikings were supposed to be better than this with Kirk Cousins at QB. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all Cousins’s fault. He and his receivers mostly have done their parts. But the Cousins signing made this what amounts to a Super Bowl-or-bust season after the Vikings reached last season’s NFC title game with Case Keenum at QB, and right now the outlook is trending toward bust.

14. Green Bay Packers (3-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 8

There was absolutely no reason for Ty Montgomery to run that kickoff out of the end zone. His fumble took the game out of QB Aaron Rodgers’s hands and ensured the near miss loss to the Rams. That might have been a season-defining moment. The Packers face another exceedingly difficult road game Sunday at New England, but at least the Patriots will be coming off a short week.

The Packers played well, but the Rams are just too good (and lucky)

15. Seattle Seahawks (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 19

QB Russell Wilson had a perfect passer rating in the win at Detroit. Are the Seahawks for real? Perhaps. But the upcoming schedule is challenging: Seattle’s next four games are against the Chargers, Rams, Packers and Panthers.

16. Baltimore Ravens (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 11

Things are beginning to unravel with two straight losses that have dropped the Ravens’ record to .500. They host the Steelers and Bengals in their next two games, with a bye in between. Anything other than a sweep of those two games would leave the Ravens in a difficult spot going down the stretch.

17. Dallas Cowboys (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 18

The Cowboys have had some extra time to work newly acquired WR Amari Cooper into their offense, with a bye week followed by a Monday night game against the Titans. Cooper had better get up to speed quickly. The Cowboys need him, and they gave up a first-round draft pick to get him. Much will be expected.

18. Atlanta Falcons (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 20

The Falcons return from their bye with things looking up a bit, following two straight pre-bye victories. But they’re winless on the road this season, and they head to FedEx Field to face the Redskins on Sunday.

19. Indianapolis Colts (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 27

Maybe the Colts aren’t completely dreadful. They enter their bye week on a two-game winning streak. Granted, the victories were over the Bills and Raiders. But it’s certainly better than losing to the Bills and Raiders.

20. Detroit Lions (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 14

It’s one step forward, one step backward for the Lions in Matt Patricia’s first season as head coach. Just when they’d fought their way back to .500, they lost by two TDs at home Sunday to the Seahawks. Next up are road games at Minnesota and Chicago.

21. Miami Dolphins (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 17

Ryan Tannehill is scheduled to practice Wednesday but it’s not clear if his injured shoulder has healed sufficiently for him to play Sunday against the Jets. So that could mean a fourth straight start for Brock Osweiler at QB.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 21

The move to Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter at QB leaves Jameis Winston’s future with the franchise in extreme doubt. And there could be a short-term offensive boost with Fitzpatrick back in the lineup. But as the Bucs experienced earlier this season, success with Fitzpatrick at QB generally is not lasting.

23. Denver Broncos (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 22

This season is becoming a lost cause, and there’s little hope for a turnaround with the Texans, Chargers, Steelers and Bengals next on the schedule.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 23

There are big problems here. The defense has not been dominant. RB Leonard Fournette has been hurt and out of the lineup. QB Blake Bortles has not provided justification for the confidence that the Jaguars showed in him. Fournette presumably will be ready to play after the bye. But is that enough to fix this? That seems like a long shot.

The Jaguars were supposed to be the next AFC powerhouse. Instead, they’re a mess.

25. Tennessee Titans (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 26

Marcus Mariota is suffering through a three-TD, five-interception season and Jameis Winston is benched. The top of the 2015 NFL draft is not looking quite so special any more.

26. Arizona Cardinals (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 30

Was it good to beat the 49ers or sad that the Cardinals needed such a dramatic comeback to do it?

27. New York Jets (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 24

The two-game stretch now at hand, in which the Jets face the Dolphins and then the Bills, could go a long way toward determining the direction of the team’s season and the job security of Coach Todd Bowles. If the Jets can’t win these games, it won’t look too good for them or their coach.

28. Cleveland Browns (2-5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 25

So much for the early-season optimism. The Browns are the Browns once more and are starting over yet again. Gregg Williams takes over as the interim coach after the firing of Hue Jackson. No one should be surprised if an offensive-minded head coach is hired at season’s end to oversee QB Baker Mayfield’s development.

29. Buffalo Bills (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 28

The defense played well enough Monday night for an upset of the Patriots to be possible. But QB Derek Anderson and the offense did next to nothing.

30. Oakland Raiders (1-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 29

Is there anyone left for the Raiders to trade?

31. New York Giants (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 31

It’s time for the Giants to formulate a plan about how and when to move on from Eli Manning at QB. It doesn’t necessarily need to happen during this bye week. But it probably needs to happen at some point this season. A clean break must be made so the Giants can start over at the position. The fans would accept it now if it’s handled tactfully, which would come in contrast to last season’s abrupt and bungled benching of the two-time Super Bowl winner.

32. San Francisco 49ers (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 32

The Niners-Raiders game Thursday night should be, umm, interesting.

Read more on the NFL:

Larry Fitzgerald was so upset son skipped his NFL game, he spiked a ball for the first time

Aaron Rodgers reportedly ‘was hot, and he had a right to be’ after Ty Montgomery gaffe

Jay Gruden again says the Redskins’ passing offense is set to take off: ‘We’re close’

‘Forget fantasy and forget Vegas’: Todd Gurley sneers at your laments over his non-TD

For JuJu Smith-Schuster, video games are a hobby — and maybe a post-NFL career

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