Week 9 NFL Power Rankings: AFC playoff race will go down to the wire

NFL analyst Jonathan Vilma stops by Tim and Friends to talk the latest surrounding the NFL, the Von Miller trade and more.

Quick: Who's the best team in the AFC right now?

The right answer, right now, is Buffalo. Right?

Now, a more challenging question: Who's No. 2? That's where this one gets tough, and there's no simple answer.

First, we thought it was Kansas City. Back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and a revamped offensive line. Wrong. Okay, how about Cleveland? Perhaps the most well-balanced team in the conference with a run game three men deep. Nope.

The Raiders emerged early, defeating Baltimore in a thriller, but lost to the Chargers, who were trounced by the Ravens... who then went and lost to the Bengals... who just fell to Mike White and the New York Jets...?

Certainly the Titans, at least, are a sure thing...? The injury bug had something to say about that.

The only clear thing about this AFC playoff picture is that we'll need the full 18 weeks to solve it.

As for the NFC, it's crowded at the top. The Packers are the new team to beat, but...

LOOK OUT FOR THE RAMS

1. Green Bay Packers (7-1; Last week: 3)
2. Arizona Cardinals (7-1; Last week: 1)
3. Los Angeles Rams (7-1; Last week: 5)
4. Dallas Cowboys (6-1; Last week: 2)
5. Buffalo Bills (5-2; Last week: 4)
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2; Last week: 6)

Seven straight wins since their head-scratching loss in Week 1 has the Green Bay Packers atop the league -- and our power rankings -- as the new team to beat after handing the Cardinals their first loss of the year on Thursday. The fact that Aaron Rodgers got the win without his top two wide receivers makes his feat even more impressive.

The Rams got an easy win over Houston, but their biggest win of Week 8 was the acquisition of Von Miller from the Broncos.

The thought of facing him and the all-powerful Aaron Donald aaand top cornerback Jalen Ramsey kind of brings new meaning to the term 'Sunday scaries,' doesn't it?

Meanwhile, it was refreshing to see the Cowboys take the cautious approach with quarterback Dak Prescott, who wasn't 100 per cent healthy heading into Sunday's matchup against Minnesota. These Cowboys are playing the long game en route to the playoffs. (Granted, it's easy to say that considering they won Sunday night thanks to backup Cooper Rush.)

Sunday brought predictable outcomes for the Bills and Buccaneers -- Buffalo shook off any bye-week rust against Miami, while the Saints still clearly have Tampa Bay's number. We're not overly concerned about that loss, though. It should be fairly smooth sailing to another division title for the Bucs. - Sadler

AFC PLAYOFF RACE WILL COME DOWN TO THE WIRE

7. Baltimore Ravens (5-2; Last week: 9)
8. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2; Last week: 12)
9. Tennessee Titans (6-2; Last week: 7)
10. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3; Last week: 8)

The Ravens and Raiders both managed to “win” their bye weeks in a sense as they both maintain strong positions in the fascinating AFC playoff race. That’s because the Titans lost their MVP in Derrick Henry, who suffered a foot injury in a clutch win over the Colts. Also, the Bengals were upset as double-digit favourites by the lowly Jets. (Thoughts and prayers to anyone whose parlays were busted by that unexpected Cincinnati loss.)

Henry’s injury is terrible news for Titans, but we’re not panicking over Cincinnati hitting a speed bump. Baltimore hosts Minnesota and Las Vegas visits the Giants this week – neither of those matchups should be considered an automatic win. - Johnston

PLAYOFFS...?!

11. New England Patriots (4-4; Last week: 18)
12. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3; Last week: 10)
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3; Last week: 17)
14. Cleveland Browns (4-4; Last week: 11)
15. New Orleans Saints (5-2; Last week: 13)
16. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4; Last week: 14)
17. Indianapolis Colts (3-5: Last week: 15)

Big emphasis on the question mark here. We've seen big things -- great things, even! -- from every team in this tier, but the most prominent theme here is inconsistency. The Patriots, at .500, might actually be the most consistent of the bunch thanks to a handful of losses featuring outputs just as impressive as those in their wins.

Monday's closely contested win over the Giants put the Chiefs in better standing, but troubling trends continued.

If not for major questions at QB, the Saints would bump up our list in the wake of a pretty decisive win over Tampa Bay, but we're in wait-and-see mode for now.

And just when we thought the Colts were out of the playoff mix following a closely contested loss to the Titans, an injury to Derrick Henry -- and an easy next two matchups lined up on the schedule -- brings the possibility of a way back in. - Sadler

ANYONE HERE CAPABLE OF GOING ON A HOT STREAK?

18. Minnesota Vikings (3-4; Last week: 16)
19. San Francisco 49ers (3-4; Last week: 19)
20. Denver Broncos (4-4; Last week: 21)
21. Carolina Panthers (4-4; Last week: 22)
22. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5; Last week: 23)
23. Seattle Seahawks (3-5; Last week: 25)

Each team in this tier is capable of remaining in the playoff hunt if they can muster a decent winning streak. The Broncos, Seahawks, Eagles and Panthers all won in Week 8, but it's the Vikings' and 49ers' rosters that inspire the most confidence. San Francisco has had bad injury luck, while Minnesota’s daunting strength of schedule is their biggest obstacle. The Vikings have lost their four games by three, one, seven and four points, respectively; teams to beat the Vikings have a combined record of 23-8. - Johnston

THERE'S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR...?

24. New York Giants (2-6; Last week: 26)
25. Chicago Bears (3-5; Last week: 27)
26. Atlanta Falcons (3-4; Last week: 20)
27. Washington Football Team (2-6; Last week: 24)
28. New York Jets (2-5; Last week: 30)

It's really saying something that the happiest fanbase in this tier is... the Jets. Backup Mike White went up against the Bengals, threw for a cool 405 yards and three touchdowns in the first start of his NFL career, and upset the AFC's top-seeded team. We're about to see if he can do it again on a short week against the Colts. - Sadler

THE 3-28 COMBINED RECORD TIER

29. Miami Dolphins (1-7; Last week: 28)
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6; Last week: 29)
31. Houston Texans (1-7; Last week: 31)
32. Detroit Lions (0-8; Last week: 32)

Tyrod Taylor should be returning for the Texans, which will give them a better shot each week. The Dolphins were not projected to be this bad so it’s disappointing to see a talented coaching staff and top QB prospect not shine.

We’re not sure what to say about the Lions at this point, so instead here’s a tweet that sums up their most recent performance. - Johnston

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