NFL Power Rankings: 2008 Week 8 edition
Beware the trap game.
It's an old sports maxim, but it seems the NFL regularly provides examples of strong teams that fail to heed it. In Week 7 the Dallas Cowboys, admittedly distracted by the loss of starting quarterback Tony Romo to injury and cornerback Adam Jones to his various problems, visited the St. Louis Rams.
Against arguably the worst team in the league, the Cowboys seemingly had a chance to right their course after three weeks of subpar performances. Still, with games looming against 2007 NFC playoff qualifiers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants, the Cowboys had to resist the temptation of overlooking the Rams.
Instead the Rams, revived under new coach Jim Haslett, whipped the Cowboys 34-14 to enhance St. Louis' once-dormant playoff chances and continue the Cowboys' tailspin.
As we consider the Week 8 ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings as determined by the weekly poll of our experts, at least one highly ranked squad has to avoid a similar "trap" in its next game.
The Washington Redskins, 5-2 and holding fast to No. 5 in the rankings, visit the No. 32 Detroit Lions. Even though some are tempted to start the countdown clock on a possible 0-16 season for the Lions, the team has shown signs of life in recent outings. The Redskins have a chance to make a national splash in Week 9 on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that matchup would be dulled considerably if they do not defeat the Lions.
There's little chance the No. 3 Steelers will overlook their Week 8 foe, the No. 2-rated New York Giants. Likewise, the top-rated Tennessee Titans (6-0) should have no trouble focusing on their next foe, the No. 16-ranked Indianapolis Colts. That matchup is on the next edition of "MNF" (8:30 p.m., ESPN), and against the team that has held a five-year stranglehold on the AFC South until this season.
Indeed, the top of the rankings resembled the previous week's, as the top five teams -- including the No. 4-rated Buffalo Bills -- held on to their respective seedings.
The biggest vaulters in the latest poll include the Green Bay Packers, up nine spots to No. 10 on the strength of their 34-14 home rout of the Colts. The New England Patriots found favor with our voters again after whipping the visiting Denver Broncos on Monday. The Patriots moved up eight places to No. 9 overall.
Despite surrendering 41 points in a seven-point victory over the mediocre Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears impressed enough of the pollsters to move up seven places to No. 13. This vault comes a week after the Bears' last-second loss in Atlanta dropped them 10 spots in the previous poll.
We've called upon some of our voting members to provide team-by-team commentary. Thus, for your reading pleasure, you'll have:
• Tim Graham on the AFC East
• James Walker on the AFC North
• Paul Kuharsky on the AFC South
• Bill Williamson on the AFC West
• Matt Mosley on the NFC East
• Kevin Seifert on the NFC North
• Pat Yasinskas on the NFC South
• Mike Sando on the NFC West
The Cowboys' stumble in St. Louis cost them nine spots in our poll, to No. 15 overall. The team ranked as the league's best in Weeks 2-4 could find itself out of the top 20 if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- who assume the Cowboys' old spot at No. 6 -- win at Texas Stadium on Sunday. But then again, the Bucs have to be wary.
Apparently the Rams' pounding of the Cowboys did little to sway the voters. St. Louis moved up three places to No. 25 overall. Should the Rams extend their win streak to three games with an upset at New England on Sunday, they might vault into the top 20. Considering the Rams were the worst team running for five weeks this season in our rankings, that would be an amazing turnaround.
The last three spots in our rankings were as stable as the top five rungs, as the No. 30 Kansas City Chiefs, No. 31 Cincinnati Bengals and No. 32 Lions held their places. Based upon the latest rankings, the matchup between the No. 28 San Francisco 49ers and No. 29 Seattle Seahawks might be the least appealing game of the season thus far.
Mike Nolan, dismissed as coach of the 49ers on Monday, won't have to watch it.
(Editor's note: LW indicates each team's ranking last week.)