Week 9 NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys ascend to No. 2

ESPN Illustration

The Cowboys, winners of six straight games, have climbed their way to No. 2 this week and join the Patriots as the top two teams in the Week 9 NFL Power Rankings. ESPN's power panel (a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities) also rewarded another climber, the Raiders, who moved up five spots to sit just outside the top five.

Methodology note: These rankings reflect which teams voters think would win head-to-head matchups. Higher-ranked teams would be favored against lower-ranked teams. Coming off a win doesn't guarantee a jump, and coming off a loss doesn't guarantee a fall.

Check out the rest of the league and where each team ranks.

Previous rankings: Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Preseason

ESPN Stats & Information contributed the following research, with this week's focus on how each team has changed since its Week 1 ranking.

1. New England Patriots

2016 record: 7-1
Week 8 ranking: 1 | Week 1 ranking: 3

The Patriots were near the apex of the rankings even without quarterback Tom Brady, so now that he's back into the full swing of things, is it any surprise New England is the top dog? Brady heads into the bye 4-0 with 12 touchdown passes and no interceptions.

2. Dallas Cowboys

2016 record: 6-1
Week 8 ranking: 4 | Week 1 ranking: 23

A big reason for the Cowboys' success is their star rookies: QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. According to Elias, Prescott and Johnny Lujack (1948 Bears) are the only rookie quarterbacks to start 6-1 in NFL history.

3. Denver Broncos

2016 record: 6-2
Week 8 ranking: 3 | Week 1 ranking: 8

It's possible the Broncos are still being underestimated, despite their 6-2 start. The defense has forced 16 turnovers (tied for most in the NFL) and allowed only 17 points per game. On top of that, the Broncos have thrown eight fewer interceptions than they did by this point last season.

4. Seattle Seahawks

2016 record: 4-2-1
Week 8 ranking: 2 | Week 1 ranking: 1

The Seahawks are still a top-five team, but that's mostly thanks to their defense. QB Russell Wilson doesn't seem himself lately (thanks to injuries, among other factors), and his rushing numbers back that up. Wilson has 44 rush yards this season, tied for 20th among quarterbacks. Whom is he tied with? Tom Brady.

5. Green Bay Packers

2016 record: 4-3
Week 8 ranking: 6 | Week 1 ranking: 6

The Packers are about where they were at the start of the season, despite a 4-3 record entering Week 9. That's not bad for a team that had three players each record their first touchdown receptions in Week 8, thanks to a multitude of injuries. If this team can get fully healthy, watch out.

6. Oakland Raiders

2016 record: 6-2
Week 8 ranking: 11 | Week 1 ranking: 11

The Raiders are off to their best eight-game start since 2001, despite allowing the second-most yards per game and committing the most penalties. QB Derek Carr has kept the Raiders afloat, throwing 16 of his 17 touchdowns with the score within eight points (most in the NFL).

7. Minnesota Vikings

2016 record: 5-2
Week 8 ranking: 5 | Week 1 ranking: 12

Not many anticipated that the Vikings would rise as high as they did after losing QB Teddy Bridgewater to a season-ending injury in late August. But with Sam Bradford's recent struggles, taking 11 sacks the past two games, a bigger drop-off could be in store if the problems aren't corrected.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 record: 4-3
Week 8 ranking: 8 | Week 1 ranking: 2

The Steelers have dipped a bit in the rankings since the start of the season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's absence hasn't helped. Let the record show: Steelers QBs not named Roethlisberger are 1-6 against the Ravens (Pittsburgh's Week 9 opponent) since he became the starter.

9. Atlanta Falcons

2016 record: 5-3
Week 8 ranking: 10 | Week 1 ranking: 22

ESPN's efficiency rankings have the Falcons at No. 2 offensively, trailing only the Patriots. That top offense has moved the Falcons from No. 22 to No. 9 in this week's rankings, but their 26th-ranked defense could get in the way of future movement in this poll if they're not careful.

10. Philadelphia Eagles

2016 record: 4-3
Week 8 ranking: 12 | Week 1 ranking: 25

The Eagles have dropped three of their past four games, but all of the losses have been close (seven points or fewer), and all have been on the road. QB Carson Wentz will prove his mettle in upcoming weeks, though, as the Eagles take on the Giants, Falcons, Seahawks and Packers.

11. Kansas City Chiefs

2016 record: 5-2
Week 8 ranking: 9 | Week 1 ranking: 9

The Chiefs are 5-2 this season and 15-2 in their past 17 games, so a dip in the rankings from Week 1 feels a little off here. However, the Chiefs will be put to the test in upcoming weeks, mostly because of uncertainty at quarterback and running back following recent injuries.

12. Arizona Cardinals

2016 record: 3-4-1
Week 8 ranking: 7 | Week 1 ranking: 4

The Cardinals made big changes on the offensive line this offseason, and those changes are coming back to haunt them in the standings and the rankings. Arizona is 0-4-1 this season when allowing multiple sacks and 3-0 when allowing one or zero.

13. Cincinnati Bengals

2016 record: 3-4-1
Week 8 ranking: 13 | Week 1 ranking: 7

QB Andy Dalton has now started two tie games in his NFL career. That fact might sum up the Andy Dalton experience, as the Bengals have slipped in the standings since Week 1. No. 13 might be generous, though, as Cincinnati's wins have come against the Jets (No. 27 in Power Rankings), Dolphins (No. 28) and Browns (No. 32).

14. San Diego Chargers

2016 record: 3-5
Week 8 ranking: 14 | Week 1 ranking: 26

The Chargers have already made big moves in the rankings since Week 1, but imagine where they'd be if they could hold a lead. Only the Patriots have run more offensive plays with a lead (346) than the Chargers (258) this season.

15. Washington Redskins

2016 record: 4-3-1
Week 8 ranking: 19 | Week 1 ranking: 14

The Redskins lost their first two, then won four in a row and have gone winless (0-1-1) since. The ups and downs have Washington moving down one spot since Week 1. Something good to show for it is the recent play of QB Kirk Cousins. He's second in the NFL in passing yards this season, with 2,454.

16. Carolina Panthers

2016 record: 2-5
Week 8 ranking: 22 | Week 1 ranking: 5

It's easy to make Cam Newton a scapegoat, but the Panthers' defense might be the real culprit in the team's overall fall in the rankings since Week 1. The Panthers are allowing 28 points per game this season, which is almost nine more per game than they allowed all of the previous regular season (19.3).

17. Houston Texans

2016 record: 5-3
Week 8 ranking: 17 | Week 1 ranking: 13

If the Texans played every game at home, they'd be one of the best teams in the NFL. In Houston this season, they are 5-0 and averaging 23 points per game. Away from Houston? They're 0-3 and have scored 22 points ... total.

18. Buffalo Bills

2016 record: 4-4
Week 8 ranking: 16 | Week 1 ranking: 16

The Bills are 1-3 in division games this season, with the only win coming against the Jacoby Brissett-led Patriots in Week 4. As the AFC East gets more muddled, those losses could come back to bite the Bills. They look to right the ship Monday at Seattle.

19. New Orleans Saints

2016 record: 3-4
Week 8 ranking: 25 | Week 1 ranking: 27

The Saints have won three of their past four games to move up in the rankings, and that Drew Brees fellow is one of the big reasons for that. During the four-game stretch, Brees has an 84.0 Total QBR, second in the NFL to Tom Brady.

20. Baltimore Ravens

2016 record: 3-4
Week 8 ranking: 21 | Week 1 ranking: 15

The Ravens started the season with a three-game win streak but have lost four straight since. Joe Flacco is one of four qualified quarterbacks with more interceptions than touchdowns so far (six versus five). The Ravens could be better than 20th, but they could be a lot worse too.

21. Detroit Lions

2016 record: 4-4
Week 8 ranking: 15 | Week 1 ranking: 20

Like a lot of teams, the Lions are not a complete team on all sides of the ball. Their offense is rated the fourth-most efficient, according to NFL FPI, but their defense ranks 31st, better than only the Browns. Without balance, the Lions might find it difficult to rise above the middle of the rankings.

22. New York Giants

2016 record: 4-3
Week 8 ranking: 18 | Week 1 ranking: 17

It's hard to tell if the Giants are pretenders or contenders. They have a 4-3 record, but their minus-8 point differential is the worst in the crowded NFC East. That kind of point differential doesn't bode well for their potential going forward.

23. Tennessee Titans

2016 record: 4-4
Week 8 ranking: 23 | Week 1 ranking: 30

The Titans have already surpassed their 2015 win total (3-13). QB Marcus Mariota has shown improvement, especially from the pocket. His Total QBR from inside the pocket has improved by 21 points this season.

24. Los Angeles Rams

2016 record: 3-4
Week 8 ranking: 27 | Week 1 ranking: 28

Since Week 1, the Rams have crept up the rankings, thanks to a 3-1 start, but a three-game skid has halted that rise. Regardless of who starts at quarterback going forward, Todd Gurley's 3.0 yards per rush (second-worst in the NFL) needs to improve if Los Angeles aims to make it through the meat of the schedule.

25. Indianapolis Colts

2016 record: 3-5
Week 8 ranking: 24 | Week 1 ranking: 18

The Colts have dropped since Week 1, and for good reason: Andrew Luck has been sacked an NFL-high 31 times this season. Luck has had to play behind 12 different offensive line combinations already and has taken a sack behind seven of them.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 record: 3-4
Week 8 ranking: 20 | Week 1 ranking: 24

Here are Jameis Winston's completion percentages this season: 72, 52, 62, 49, 60, 70, 50. The inconsistency from week to week is frustrating for fans, but not entirely unexpected from a second-year quarterback. If he can find his rhythm, the Bucs could move back up.

27. New York Jets

2016 record: 3-5
Week 8 ranking: 28 | Week 1 ranking: 10

Through this point last season, Ryan Fitzpatrick had 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Those numbers are basically flipped this season (seven TDs, 11 INTs), and Fitzpatrick has already been benched once. The Jets have a lot of work to do if they want to reach the top 10 in these Power Rankings again.

28. Miami Dolphins

2016 record: 3-4
Week 8 ranking: 26 | Week 1 ranking: 21

Even consecutive 200-yard rushing performances by Jay Ajayi can't get the Dolphins back to their original ranking following Miami's 1-4 start. The Dolphins averaged 72 rush yards per game during that start, so if Ajayi keeps up with the big gains and the wins start happening, Miami could make a move in future weeks.

29. Chicago Bears

2016 record: 2-6
Week 8 ranking: 30 | Week 1 ranking: 29

The Bears are pretty much where we left them in Week 1. This team has offensive talent, and if Jordan Howard and Alshon Jeffery can continue to make big plays (265 total yards, two TDs between them in Week 8), the Bears could be on the move in the rankings.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

2016 record: 2-5
Week 8 ranking: 29 | Week 1 ranking: 19

Entering the season, it seemed like things were on the up and up in Jacksonville. Guess not. The Jags have two wins, but by a combined score of four points. They've been outscored by 61 in their five losses.

31. San Francisco 49ers

2016 record: 1-6
Week 8 ranking: 31 | Week 1 ranking: 32

The 49ers have moved up a whopping one spot since Week 1. The team obviously has quarterback problems, but the main reason for the 49ers' consistently poor ranking is defense. The 49ers rank last in points per game allowed this season, as they are giving up 31.3.

32. Cleveland Browns

2016 record: 0-8
Week 8 ranking: 32 | Week 1 ranking: 31

When you haven't won a game and you've had six different quarterbacks throw a pass through eight games, you're going to find yourself at the bottom of the standings. If Week 1 prognostications are any such indicator, our power panel had a hunch that Cleveland was going to struggle this season, even before it all went down.