It took more than half the season, but Week 12 finally brings some stability to our NFL Power Rankings, both at the top of the heap and the bottom.
There are still 23 teams -- 24 if you count Miami for some reason -- that could conceivably make the playoffs, either as a division champ or a wild card. But the elite squads seem to be rising to the top and saying there. New England, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Green Bay, the Jets and so on ... it's hard, even in this topsy-turvy NFL season to envision a sleeper team like Tampa Bay or Oakland rising up and knocking off one of the big boys. Of our top 10 this week, only one (Tampa Bay) was not there in Week 11.
And we more or less know the teams that we can put to bed until next year, starting with Carolina, Cincinnati and Detroit, and going right on up through Dallas.
Check out this week's rankings:
- 1. Patriots (8-2) | Last Week: 1
The Patriots looked like they would easily put away their decade-long rival, Indianapolis, but Peyton Manning and the Colts came charging back before falling short at the end on Sunday. New England should be able to take care of business on Thanksgiving in Detroit, before a huge divisional matchup with the Jets on Monday night in Week 13. -- R.J. White
- 2. Eagles (7-3) | Last Week: 2
Sunday night's Eagles-Giants matchup seemed like it might decide the NFC favorite for the Super Bowl, and Philadelphia came out on top, despite a very ugly third quarter. This team hinges on Michael Vick staying healthy; if he does, the Eagles could hoist their first championship trophy. -- RW
- 3. Falcons (8-2) | Last Week: 3
Atlanta just keep rolling right along -- which is important, since the Saints and Bucs also keep cooking. The NFC South is shaping up as a spectacular race down the stretch. The division could send three to the postseason, but holding onto the top spot will be huge: both the Falcons and Saints are far more formidable at home.
- 4. Packers (7-3) | Last Week: 5
The Packers have allowed 10 points total over their last three games, and two of them have come on the road. That banged-up defense is playing almost as well as Aaron Rodgers is. Given what's happened to the coaches of their last two opponents (Dallas and Minnesota), surely Mike Smith is shaking in his shoes looking at this Sunday. Or maybe not. -- Bruce Ciskie
- 5. Jets (8-2) | Last Week: 4
Credit Houston's inability to close games out rather than the Jets' defense for New York's Week 11 win. As a matter of fact, the Jets' signature unit of 2009 has looked positively mediocre in 2010. Still, no one can complain about 8-2. The Jets will have to force themselves not to look past Thursday's game against Cincinnati to a Week 13 showdown with New England. -- RW
- 6. Saints (7-3) | Last Week: 10
Somewhere along the line, the Saints chugged a few Gatorades, popped a couple aspirin and shook their Super Bowl hangover. Now, they're getting healthy and looking like a legit threat. A Thanksgiving trip to Dallas is a tricky spot on the schedule, though, especially with the 'Boys playing with some confidence.
- 7. Ravens (7-3) | Last Week: 8
Go ahead and circle the Week 13 Baltimore-Pittsburgh game on your calendar. The winner of that showdown probably takes the AFC North, and possibly a first-round playoff bye -- especially if it's the Ravens, since they already won in Pittsburgh this year.
- 8. Steelers (7-3) | Last Week: 9
The Steelers needed that bounce-back rout of Oakland to erase the memory of a Week 10 dud against New England. But the injuries continue to mount on Pittsburgh's offensive line, and Sunday's upcoming trip to Buffalo suddenly looks a lot more treacherous.
- 9. Colts (6-4) | Last Week: 7
Another tough road loss for the depleted Colts, but that 2-4 mark away from home is troubling, even if the competition's been tough. Indianapolis is going to have a hard time holding onto the AFC South, and even if the Colts manage that, they'll have to win away from home in the postseason.
- 10. Buccaneers (7-3) | Last Week: 13
If the Bucs can survive the next three weeks (at Baltimore, vs. Atlanta, at Washington) -- meaning at least a 1-2 record -- then they should be in this down to the wire. Tampa Bay hosts Detroit and Seattle in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, then closes at New Orleans.
- 11. Bears (7-3) | Last Week: 12
It's rarely pretty, but the Bears keep winning games, and that's all that matters. Chicago doesn't have the flash or big-name stars its rival in Green Bay does, but the Bears do have the same record, a tie-breaker edge (at least for now), and they're as good a pick to make the playoffs out of this division as anyone. -- BC
- 12. Giants (6-4) | Last Week: 6
Talk about adding injury to insult. Not only did New York lose control of the NFC East to the Eagles, they lost breakout sensation Hakeem Nicks for at least three weeks to injury. Mario Manningham, Derek Hagan, Duke Calhoun and Kevin Boss will have to fill the void and catch Eli Manning's passes for a bit. -- RW
- 13. Chargers (5-5) | Last Week: 17
Every. Single. Year. The Chargers start slow, then turn it on in the season's second half, only to bomb out in the playoffs. San Diego's still got work to do to get to the postseason -- the Chargers trail Kansas City by a game in the AFC West -- but this team's clicking, just like it always does in November and December.
- 14. Jaguars (6-4) | Last Week: 15
Jacksonville continues to find ways to win, but you get the feeling the magic's about to run out. Jacksonville plays at the Giants, Titans, Colts and Texans in the final six weeks, plus hosts Oakland and Washington. If the Jags manage to take down the Colts in the AFC South, they'll have earned it.
- 15. Chiefs (6-4) | Last Week: 19
Good teams win home games against subpar opponents, and the Chiefs did just that in Week 11 by beating Arizona. They're now 5-0 at home this season, Their remaining schedule isn't imposing at all, and if they can squeak out a No. 2 playoff seed, they may reach the AFC championship. -- RW
- 16. Raiders (5-5) | Last Week: 11
The Raiders' impressive recent run was completely halted when the Steelers coasted to a 35-3 win over them in Week 11. Oakland's rushing attack should be much better facing the Dolphins in Week 12, and the Raiders will need the non-division win to keep up in their bid for a playoff spot. -- RW
- 17. Redskins (5-5) | Last Week: 24
After surrendering 96 points to Detroit and Philadelphia over their previous two games, the Redskins bottled up the Tennessee offense and hung on for an overtime win Sunday. At 5-5, the Redskins are still lurking on the fringe of the playoff picture. -- RW
- 18. Titans (5-5) | Last Week: 18
Tennessee didn't drop in the rankings after a home loss to Washington, mostly because the team's below them are all equally average or worse. But with Rusty Smith now starting at QB, and Randy Moss looking every bit the waste of space he was in Minnesota, this could unravel in a hurry.
- 19. Seahawks (5-5) | Last Week: 14
The Seahawks come off a Week 11 blowout loss at the hands of New Orleans, but it's the NFC West! Every single divisional rival of Seattle's also lost, leaving the 'Hawks with a one-game lead in the division. At 5-5 with a point differential of negative-48, this is not a good team despite its first-place standing. -- RW
- 20. Dolphins (5-5) | Last Week: 16
Tyler Thigpen sure didn't look like the answer to the Miami passing offense on Thursday, as the Dolphins were completely shut down by a Bears team the general populous doesn't respect. Miami's rushing attack has much better days ahead of it, especially with Detroit and Buffalo on tap in December. -- RW
- 21. Cowboys (3-7) | Last Week: 28
Who would have thought Wade Phillips was the problem? Jerry Jones, see how you were the only person to not raise your hand? The Cowboys' defense has reeled off their two best performances since Week 3 back-to-back, and Dez Bryant looks like he'll be an elite receiver for a long time. -- RW
- 22. Texans (4-6) | Last Week: 20
What else can you say? The Texans still haven't turned the corner as a team that knows how to win close games. You can blame most of that on a sieve of a defense that barely made the Jets break a sweat during a game-winning march down the field.
- 23. Broncos (3-7) | Last Week: 21
After giving up 35 points to San Diego Monday, the Broncos have now coughed up 287 points on the year -- that's better than just one team, the Cardinals (292 points allowed). Denver needs to win out to have any hope.
- 24. Rams (4-6) | Last Week: 22
The upstart Rams weren't able to take care of business at home against the Falcons, surrendering the most points they've given up all season, save for their blowout loss at Detroit. With three straight road games on tap starting in Week 12, things are looking down for St. Louis. -- RW
- 25. Browns (3-7) | Last Week: 23
Cleveland's lost its positive momentum with two straight losses and an injury to Colt McCoy. The upcoming schedule could get the Browns to five or six wins, which wouldn't be terrible, all things considered.
- 26. Vikings (3-7) | Last Week: 26
Everyone gets their wish, as Brad Childress was fired and replaced by Leslie Frazier Monday. Obviously, that doesn't fix everything, but it's a move that likely had to be made. Frazier's first job is finding a way to get Brett Favre to play better. Owner Zygi Wilf didn't throw more money at Favre so he could be the 32nd-rated quarterback in a 32-team league. -- BC
- 27. 49ers (3-7) | Last Week: 25
The 49ers actually looked like an NFL team heading into Week 11 -- then, they were shut out at home by the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is good, but not that good. San Francisco still plays two against Arizona and two against Seattle, so the division's still attainable. -- RW
- 28. Bills (2-8) | Last Week: 29
Break up the Bills. After starting the season 0-8, the Bills have rattled off two straight wins. Down big in the first half Sunday, the team was unstoppable in the final 30 minutes, scoring five TDs to easily take down the struggling Bengals. A few more games like that and an elite draft prospect will be out of reach. -- RW
- 29. Cardinals (3-7) | Last Week: 27
Despite a pretty rough early schedule, the Cardinals made it to their Week 6 bye 3-2 and coming off a big win against the Saints. Since then, they've dropped five straight games, making them the bottom team in the league's worst division. The playoffs are likely out of reach for the loser of Week 12's Arizona-San Francisco game. -- RW
- 30. Lions (2-8) | Last Week: 30
As Detroit keeps on losing, the natives are becoming restless. The Lions have competed hard in games this year, and they've shown signs of improvement. However, they aren't turning the corner, in part because they can't find a healthy starting quarterback. If Matthew Stafford is unable to get himself right -- and it's not all his fault, mind you -- Detroit may have to push the reset button at the position again. -- BC
- 31. Bengals (2-8) | Last Week: 31
It's too bad Carson Palmer is signed to a massive contract through 2014, because it's becoming more and more obvious that he's not the answer anymore in Cincinnati -- and a 2-14 Bengals team (a distinct possibility) could select Andrew Luck at the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the draft.
- 32. Panthers (1-9) | Last Week: 32
The only good news in Carolina is that the Panthers already have that one win out of the way. It's hard to see any more coming with Brian St. Pierre as quarterback, though give Carolina some credit for hanging in there against Baltimore Sunday.