AFC Power Poll: Trouble at the top, Patriots check in at #3


In the world of Power Polls, there are so many different formulas to determine placement that perhaps the truth gets lost in the mad shuffle.

That’s why our power poll is based solely on the one statistic that means everything above all else:  Win and loss record.  It’s incredibly unscientific but, as a person smarter than me once quipped, you can’t argue with record.

The Houston Texans’ have held the top spot in this poll all season, but their grip on the #1 ranking has grown more and more tenuous the past few weeks as they’ve barely escaped with overtime victories over two of the NFL’s also-rans.  Some will argue that the Texans are showing intestinal fortitude by gutting out ugly wins, but that’s a senile cop out.

Their pass defense has given up just shy of 1,000 yards in the past two games and the offense, despite gaudy numbers, has given up twice as many turnovers as the defense has forced – so this is a team that is suddenly undisciplined and very fortunate to still be atop the AFC, but there’s still five games left in the regular season and the Texans play 3 of those on the road, starting with the Titans in Nashville this Sunday.

Then a visit to white hot New England looms a week from Monday night, followed by two games against Indianapolis with a visit from the Minnesota Vikings sandwiched between.

The road still has some major bumps for Houston.

Alfonzo Dennard and Devin McCourty have helped solidify the Patriots’ secondary. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

1. Houston Texans  (10-1) – High octane, but seems to be slipping ever so slightly, a little more each week.  After visiting a tough Titans squad in Nashville this Sunday they are due in Foxboro next Monday night for the game of the year.  If the Texans fall to either the Titans or the Patriots, the Colts are waiting to ambush Houston as they play each other twice in the final 3 weeks.

2. Baltimore Ravens (9-2) – How this team keeps winning with a decent defense but an abysmal offense is beyond comprehension – but regardless of where they finish in the AFC seedings, don’t expect them to go very far in the playoffs.  Problem is, their schedule and their tie-breakers favor the Ravens to earn a first round bye, which will do them little good if the offense doesn’t find a way to get some consistency.

3. New England Patriots (8-3) – Perhaps the hottest team in the NFL right now, and not a second too soon as games with the Texans and 49ers loom on the December docket.  Most likely will have to win out to get a first round bye, but this is a team that can beat anyone, anywhere.

4. Denver Broncos (8-3) – Has the best chance of any AFC contender to win out.  Scary team, but a team that can be had, particularly on the road, so the rest of the conference contenders had better hope that they don’t somehow qualify with the #1 seed.

5. Indianapolis (7-4) – Bounced back nicely after the debacle against the Patriots – of course, everyone rebounds nicely when facing the Bills – and now they have a big opportunity to make some real noise in the AFC playoff race, facing the Texans twice in the final 3 weeks.  If they can keep winning and Houston loses a couple of games…just saying…the AFC South is not a foregone conclusion…

6. Pittsburgh (6-5) – No Big Ben, no playoffs for the Steelers – it’s that simple.  Despite a strong defensive effort, the offense without Roethlisberger is putrid.  They have a very small margin for error with Cincinnati and Miami hot on their heels for the final wild card playoff spot, and it all hinges on Big Ben returning from Shoulder and Rib injuries.  A win over a mysteriously punchless Ravens offense this Sunday would go a long way toward putting some distance between them and their pursuers.

Lurking in the weeds:  Cincinnati (6-5) and Miami (5-6)

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