Power Rankings: No. 7 New England

A weekly examination of the Patriots' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 6 | Last Week: 9 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Patriots improve two spots from last week, leapfrogging the Packers and Bengals.

That seems fair after the Patriots posted a 55-31 win over the Steelers, and both the Packers (against the Bears) and Bengals (against the Dolphins) lost in Week 9.

One could quibble that perhaps the Patriots should be ahead of the Saints (No. 6) since they beat them head-to-head on Oct. 13 and New Orleans is coming off a loss to the Jets, but ...

The more important focus, naturally, is on what's ahead.

The Patriots enter their bye week, and when they return they'll face a two-games-in-six-days stretch -- at Carolina on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" Nov. 18 and then at home against Denver on Nov. 24.

Carolina is No. 12 in the Power Rankings, while Denver is No. 3.

Bill Belichick has given players six straight days off (Wednesday to Monday) over the bye in advance of the crucial stretch.