NFL power rankings: Rise and fall of NFC powers makes Lions’ struggles harder to swallow

Detroit Free Press

The most maddening thing about the Detroit Lions’ 1-6 start is the opportunity they appear to have squandered in the upside-down NFC.

The three teams favored to represent the conference in the Super Bowl entering the season, the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams, have fallen on hard times with no obvious turnaround in sight, while new contenders have emerged who were bringing up the bottom of standings with the Lions (1-6) last year.

The Packers and Bucs have future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who are showing their age while trying to navigate problems with their supporting casts (and in Brady’s case, in his personal life). The Packers have no receivers and a struggling offensive line, while the Bucs have been hit hard by injury up front and have a glaring lack of speed on offense.

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The defending champion Rams are in a similar boat, with ex-Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s elbow injury perhaps also a problem.

After going a combined 38-13 last year, the Packers, Bucs and Rams are 9-14 this season and Green Bay and Tampa Bay already have eclipsed their loss total from a season ago.

None of those teams is out of the playoff race yet, especially Tampa, which resides in the lowly NFC South. But if they don’t string a couple wins together soon — the Bucs (3-5) and Rams (3-4) play a pseudo-elimination game Sunday in Tampa, while the Packers (3-5) visit the Lions before embarking on a stretch of three straight games against division leaders — they can start making vacation plans for January.

While the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles and 6-2 Dallas Cowboys are the class of the NFC, with the not-entirely-surprising Minnesota Vikings (6-1) also in the mix for conference supremacy, three teams who were scouting top-10 picks with the Lions last spring have vaulted into playoff contention: The New York Giants (6-2), Atlanta Falcons (4-4) and Seattle Seahawks (5-3).

The Giants and Falcons are winning with first- or second-year coaches by doing the little things right, while the Seahawks have reinvented themselves (again) under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. All three teams have positive turnover margins and top-12-ranked rushing attacks this season, and all have worked magic with quarterbacks given up for dead by most of the league.

The Giants, because of their defense (and relatively soft schedule), have the best playoff chances of the bunch, but all three teams are success stories at a time when the Lions feel hopeless again.

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This week’s power rankings:

1. Philadelphia Eagles (7-0)

2. Buffalo Bills (6-1)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)

4. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)

5. Minnesota Vikings (6-1)

6. Tennessee Titans (5-2)

7. Baltimore Ravens (5-3)

8. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3)

9. Miami Dolphins (5-3)

10. Seattle Seahawks (5-3)

11. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)

12. New York Giants (6-2)

13. Cincinnati Bengals (4-4)

14. Los Angeles Rams (3-4)

15. New England Patriots (4-4)

16. New York Jets (5-3)

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5)

18. Atlanta Falcons (4-4)

19. Green Bay Packers (3-5)

20. Cleveland Browns (3-5)

21. Indianapolis Colts (3-4)

22. Arizona Cardinals (3-5)

23. Denver Broncos (3-5)

24. Washington Commanders (4-4)

25. New Orleans Saints (3-5)

26. Las Vegas Raiders (2-6)

27. Chicago Bears (3-5)

28. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)

30. Carolina Panthers (2-6)

31. Houston Texans (1-5)

32. Detroit Lions (1-6)

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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