NFL Power Rankings - Week 9: Colts make monster leap

876211.png

NFL Power Rankings - Week 9: Colts make monster leap

Every Tuesday throughout the regular season, we'll be ranking all 32 NFL teams.

Take a look and offer up your thoughts in the comment box below or to us on Twitter @BearsTalkCSN.

Previousrankings: Week 1 Week2 Week 3 Week4 Week 5 Week6 Week 7 Week 8

SK JF Comments 1 SK: Surprisingly the underdog, went into Philly and stomped the Eagles.
JF: Stayed undefeated with impressive win against the Eagles. 2 SK: Much needed bye for AFC's best.
JF: Nearly blew it against the Cowboys, but Bryant's fingertips made the difference.
3 SK: Despite the W, failed to put Cowboys away when they should have.
JF: Enjoyed the BYE and now ready to build off of recent success. 4 SK: Offense continues to be inconsistent, but a win is a win.
JF: Defense continues to dominate in many ways. 6-1 is a great start to the season.
5 SK: 7 rushing yards allowed against Cardinals! Oh and Alex Smith rebounded nicely.
JF: Got past Cardinals with an impressive performance by the defense and Alex Smith
6 SK: Should NOT have been that close against the lowly Jaguars.
JF: Not dominant, but got the job done.
7 SK: Will Gronk bring the "Nutcracker" dance back to the States?
JF: Brady and Co. would probably welcome more trips to London after Sunday's win.
8 SK: Peyton Manning is showing no signs of slowing down.
JF: The Ravens are 4-0 following the BYE week under John Harbaugh.
9 SK: Only team that's been able to stop RG3.
JF: Manning, Decker and Thomas were on fire Monday night!
10 SK: Hopefully they added about 100 more runs for Ray Rice in their playbook during the bye.
JF: Took care of business against RG3 and the Redskins.
11 SK: Went into MetLife and put a whooping on the Jets.
JF: Left another win on the table.
12 SK: Looks like Thursday's loss may just be the beginning of the Vikings downfall.
JF: Still in the race, but lost another close one.
13 SK: How's Ballard's head feeling after hitting the pylon?
JF: Very impressive victory on the road against the Jets.
14 SK: The defense is really starting to struggle in Seattle.
JF: The defense struggled for the second straight game.
15 SK: Offense isn't the issue in Washington, but the defense is another story...
JF: Peterson is back, but the defense has been BAD as of late.
16 SK: If only Bryant's fingers were a little smaller...
JF: Rebounded after Monday's loss, Stafford pulled it out in the 4th quarter...again.
17 SK: Things don't get any easier with Green Bay and Atlanta on tap.
JF: A win over the Chargers now has the Colts sitting 1 game above .500.
18 SK: Could Dougie "Fresh" Martin challenge RG3 for Rookie of the Year?
JF: Offense continued to burden Arizona in loss to 49ers.
19 SK: Clock's ticking on Andy Reid, but Nick Foles is NOT the answer.
JF: Couldn't get back on track against the Browns.
20 SK: Desperately need to beat Broncos or they could fall out of AFC North race.
JF: Did they play this week? It doesn't feel like it.
21 SK: It's about time they fed DMC the rock.
JF: Impressive win in Minnesota after heartbreaking loss to Saints 2 weeks ago.
22 SK: Is Titus Young Sr. Stafford's new go-to-guy?
JF: Will they take the next step this week?
23 SK: Allowing 75 points in the last two games isn't going to get it done in St. Louis.
JF: Proved me wrong, even though it was against the Chiefs.
24 SK: Their secondary is just absolutely brutal.
JF: Still think they're right there. Tough loss against the Patriots.
25 SK: I'll say it again: Was Norv Turner fired yet?
JF: The Broncos defense really kept Brees and the Saints in check.
26 SK: Collapsed against Colts. Time to go back to Locker?
JF: Maybe not as close as I originally thought.
27 SK: Will Tebow be traded before Thursday's deadline?
JF: Hasselbeck couldn't work his magic in OT against Indianapolis.
28
SK: Don't expect the defense to improve with rough matchup against Texans on Sunday.
JF: A win was in their grasp against the Bears, but let it slip away.
29 SK: Their still ways away, but Cleveland will be a force in the coming years.
JF: What Bills team will we see coming off the BYE?
30 SK: Had a chance to put the Bears away, but choked.
JF: The defense was outstanding in their victory against the Chargers.
31 SK: Great effort in Green Bay, but couldn't get it done.
JF:Solid effort against the Packers, but another loss is another loss.
32 SK: It may be time for Scott Pioli to work on his resume and look for other jobs.
JF: Failed to show up in a winnable home game against the Raiders.

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

bryant-mcintosh-0122.jpg
USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”