Unfortunately, the Denver Broncos’ season added a layer of uncertainty during their bye week.
Coach John Fox felt ill on the golf course Saturday, and will have heart surgery this week. It has been reported he'll be out anywhere from a few weeks to two months. If he’s out two months, that would be the remainder of the regular season.
Competitively, how might Fox’s absence affect the Broncos, whose season will be considered a failure if it doesn't end in the Super Bowl? Is this the Saints collapsing without Sean Payton? Or is it the Colts thriving without Chuck Pagano?
What the Broncos have in their favor is a strong staff, and an interim coach in Jack Del Rio who knows what to expect being in the big chair, because he was Jacksonville’s coach for nine years. That’s something New Orleans lacked when Payton was suspended last season. Denver is also in the rhythm of the season, and have one of the best leaders in the NFL in Peyton Manning. And perhaps any edge the Broncos will give up not having their coach will be recouped by the players rallying to play for the likeable Fox, which certainly was the case in Indianapolis last season.
Still, Fox is Denver’s head coach for a reason. It's a significant loss. And the Broncos don't have a big margin of error with the Chiefs sitting at 9-0 (and 13-3 and a second-round exit at Arrowhead Stadium would be good for many teams, but certainly not the 2013 Broncos).
It’s a difficult variable to evaluate. The best guess is that the Broncos can survive Fox’s absence, but nobody can know that for sure. It’s a curveball Denver didn't figure to be dealing with.
Here are this week's power rankings:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8, Last week: 32)
Were Jaguars fans rooting for Tampa Bay to win (draft position) or to lose (misery loves company)?
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-8, LW: 31)
Here’s what Sunday showed: The Bucs have some good pieces. You don’t lead 21-0 at Seattle if the cupboard is bare. One good offseason coaching hire, and they might be contenders in the NFC South.
30. Minnesota Vikings (1-7, LW: 30)
This is what a franchise flying by the seat of its pants looks like: Sign young quarterback Josh Freeman for about $3 million, start him way before he’s ready, then give up on him after one predictably bad start. Solid plan.
29. New York Giants (2-6, LW: 28)
I don’t get the Giants resurgence buzz. This is still a very flawed team that has to win for another month straight just to get back to .500.
28. St. Louis Rams (3-6, LW: 25)
So they know how to put fifth-round pick Zac Stacy in the best position to succeed, but have no idea at all how to get anything out of eighth overall pick Tavon Austin? OK then.
27. Atlanta Falcons (2-6, LW: 24)
Not trading Tony Gonzalez last week was a mistake. There’s no gray area. It was the wrong move.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6, LW: 23)
You have to wonder where the season is headed after the defense rolled over like it did at New England. That’s just not Steelers football.
25. Houston Texans (2-6, LW: 26)
Was there one person who didn’t think Indianapolis was going to win when Texans kicker Randy Bullock missed his second field goal Sunday night? Even with a 12-point lead, it seemed over. What a tough loss.
24. Oakland Raiders (3-5, LW: 22)
Sunday's performance wasn’t simply a bad defense getting torched by the Eagles. The Raiders defense had been surprisingly good through seven games. So what the heck happened?
23. Washington Redskins (3-5, LW: 29)
They were inches away from losing on Sunday. But hey, give them credit for the goal-line stand after Danny Woodhead's touchdown was overturned, and for pounding the Chargers on the only possession of overtime.
22. Baltimore Ravens (3-5, LW: 20)
Hard to win football games when you can’t move the ball.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5, LW: 27)
They were a great Cowboys drive away from being tied for the NFC East lead. This year’s NFC East might be studied by scientists decades from now.
20. Buffalo Bills (3-6, LW: 21)
Completely outplayed the undefeated Chiefs despite being on their fourth option at quarterback. A couple of bad turnovers ruined it. Still, watch out for this team in the second half, and definitely in 2014.
19. Arizona Cardinals (4-4, LW: 17)
The Larry Fitzgerald offseason trade speculation is interesting. Perhaps they can still get a lot for him. Not sure the franchise would be better off without him though.
18. Cleveland Browns (4-5, LW: 19)
When you see how well this team is playing with Jason Campbell, you realize what the future might hold if they find the right quarterback in the 2014 draft.
17. Tennessee Titans (4-4, LW: 18)
If you look at who they’ve lost to and factor in that quarterback Jake Locker missed some time, their overall outlook is promising. I still like this team for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.
16. New York Jets (5-4, LW: 16)
That was a good, quality win over the Saints. Many teams in the NFL (including an undefeated one), don’t have a quality win as good as that one, or as good as the Jets’ Week 7 victory over New England either.
15. Miami Dolphins (4-4, LW: 15)
The football side of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito story is Miami had a pretty bad offensive line that is now without a starting tackle and a really talented guard.
14. San Diego Chargers (4-4, LW: 12)
This team has been a great story, but after blowing three wins in the fourth quarter, I don’t know how they come out of a very tough second-half schedule with enough wins to make the playoffs.
13. Dallas Cowboys (5-4, LW: 13)
They seem determined to make winning the NFC East a lot harder than it should be. Part of that is they have zero commitment to the run game.
12. Chicago Bears (5-3, LW: 14)
The defense is truly bad, but Marc Trestman is doing a nice job. Going for it on fourth and inches from his own 33 on Monday night was bold, and it was a turning point in the win.
11. Detroit Lions (5-3, LW: 10)
If Aaron Rodgers misses significant time with his shoulder injury, the Lions have to win the NFC North. Because if they can't under those circumstances, when will they?
10. Green Bay Packers (5-3, LW: 5)
It's impossible to rank this team without definitive news on Rodgers. If he's done for the season, or even most of the rest of the season, they obviously drop many spots.
9. Carolina Panthers (5-3, LW: 11)
They have absolutely dominated the bad teams they’ve beat, which is a great sign, but all of their wins have been against bad teams. This week’s game at San Francisco is really, really intriguing.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (6-3, LW: 8)
I don’t worry much about an overtime road loss on a Thursday night to a solid Dolphins team. But the Geno Atkins injury? That’s a killer.
7. New England Patriots (7-2, LW: 9)
Through all the injuries and issues, they’re 7-2 with a pair of really close road losses to winning teams. What a job Bill Belichick has done, and what if Tom Brady showed Sunday he’s ready for a second-half surge?
6. Kansas City Chiefs (9-0, LW: 6)
I’m willing to move them up, perhaps to the top, if they beat Denver. I’m not moving them up after they were outgained 470-210 by Jeff Tuel and the Buffalo Bills.
5. San Francisco 49ers (6-2, LW: 7)
The basic question in these rankings: Would Team A beat Team B on a neutral field? Well, in the case of No. 5 and 6 on this week's list, Team A would provide a much, much tougher challenge than Jeff Tuel and the Buffalo Bills.
4. New Orleans Saints (6-2, LW: 1)
This might be your stereotypical dome team that isn’t very good outside. And that’s really bad news if a trip to Seattle, San Francisco or Green Bay is necessary in January.
3. Seattle Seahawks (8-1, LW: 3)
Is this just a normal midseason slump, one in which they managed to avoid a bad loss? Maybe. But they shouldn’t struggle like that against the Rams and Buccaneers. Feels like keeping them at No. 3 is a bit of blind faith.
2. Denver Broncos (7-1, LW: 4)
They can’t afford to overlook a good Chargers team this week, but it’s possible with the showdown against the Chiefs coming up in Week 11.
1. Indianapolis Colts (6-2, LW: 2)
The fact is, they have the best set of quality wins in the league. And Andrew Luck is developing an Elway-esque fourth-quarter reputation. They've shown a consistent ability to beat elite teams, and they deserve a chance in the top spot.
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