Over the last few weeks, plenty of you have expressed frustration with New England keeping the top spot in our NFL Power Rankings over the Falcons. Both teams keep winning, and while no one will dispute the fact that Atlanta is the best team in the NFC, New England looks like far and away the best team in the NFL.
It was Week 9 the last time New England failed to score 30 points, and over the last two weeks they've, been holding teams to single digits on the scoreboard. That combination of terrific offense and defense will continue to spell doom for anyone in the Patriots' path.
The rest of the top 10 is bunched up by division. Atlanta and New Orleans are second and third, respectively. Pittsburgh and Baltimore follow directly behind with Philadelphia and the New York Giants right after that. At No. 8 is Chicago with Green Bay at No. 9 -- both took tough losses this week. Righting the ship for those teams is extremely important, as it looks like only one will qualify for the playoffs.
- 1. Patriots (11-2) | Last Week: 1
In the last two weeks, the Patriots have made quick work of two nine-win teams (the Jets and Bears), winning by a combined score of 81-10. They're the clear Super Bowl favorite, and Tom Brady (3,767 yards, 31 TDs, 4 INTs) is playing as well as he ever has. No team wants to see the Pats in January. - R.J. White
- 2. Falcons (11-2) | Last Week: 2
The Falcons are handling this late-season road schedule rather well. Over the last four weeks they've won in St. Louis, Tampa and Carolina, and taken down Green Bay at home. Atlanta plays next week in Seattle before returning home for its final two regular season games -- and quite possibly a few playoff games, too.
- 3. Saints (10-3) | Last Week: 3
The Saints have put up 30 points or more in each of their last five games. The high-powered offense is back, but will now be tested over the last three games against Baltimore, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. If New Orleans wins out and still is putting 30 per game on the board, they'll be my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
- 4. Steelers (10-3) | Last Week: 4
The Steelers have scored just two offensive touchdowns over the last three weeks. But they still have three wins on the board and don't seem to be looking to apologize. They are playing smart and aggressive defense, and if you don't think that style of play can win Super Bowls, ask anyone from the 1975 to 1980 teams.
- 5. Ravens (9-4) | Last Week: 8
The Ravens' defense is still good, but after watching Baltimore's fourth quarter collapse on Monday night -- and that's not the first time it's happened this year -- I'm convinced that younger, quicker teams can easily sneak up on the Ravens.
- 6. Eagles (9-4) | Last Week: 9
The Eagles would have liked a more commanding win over their NFC East rival Cowboys on Sunday night, but Philadelphia is still proving to be the real deal. Michael Vick has been wreaking havoc on defenses since returning from injury in Week 9 -- he accounted for three TDs (two in the air, one rushing) on Sunday against the Cowboys. Vick and the Eagles will need a win this week over the Giants to create some breathing room atop the NFC East. - Chris Sesno
- 7. Giants (9-4) | Last Week: 10
The Giants could have complained that they had trouble getting to Minnesota after being diverted to Kansas City because of a blizzard. They could have complained about the change in venue to Detroit -- all those hours on a plane and in the hotel can wear on an athlete. Instead, they took care of business, beating the Vikings, and return home for an extremely important divisional game against Philadelphia. - CS
- 8. Bears (9-4) | Last Week: 5
Chicago would get at least one home playoff game if it wins the NFC North -- but if that's the way the Bears play in the cold and snow, it's hard to say that's a good thing. - Chris Burke
- 9. Packers (8-5) | Last Week: 6
Aaron Rodgers' health is now primary concern No. 1 in Packer Nation. Worry No. 2 is that it looks like Green Bay might need to win out, including a Week 15 trip to New England, to catch the Bears. - CB
- 10. Chargers (7-6) | Last Week: 16
Ryan Mathews finally showed a spark of upside potential -- and the ability to stay healthy -- when he ran for 65 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. With Antonio Gates hurting and possibly done for the season, the Chargers need all the help they can get.
- 11. Jets (9-4) | Last Week: 7
Losing on the road to the Patriots isn't necessarily an indictment on the Jets, but dropping a home game to the Dolphins really says something. The Jets failed to score 10 points for the second time in a row and for the fourth time this season. With trips to Pittsburgh and Chicago on the horizon, things aren't getting any easier. - RW
- 12. Jaguars (8-5) | Last Week: 13
The Jaguars gave up big plays to the Raiders on Sunday -- and 31 points to boot. If they plan on knocking Indianapolis off of their divisional perch, they are going to have to limit those big plays and keep Peyton Manning in check.
- 13. Buccaneers (8-5) | Last Week: 12
The Bucs finally stopped a two-game slide, but their win in Washington was neither pretty nor a stepping stone to more wins. Tampa Bay lost two defensive starters on Sunday, Gerald McCoy and Quincy Black. This team is much improved over last year, but the Bucs aren't deep enough to sustain these kinds of hits.
- 14. Chiefs (8-5) | Last Week: 11
Everyone in Kansas City, from player to coach to fan, saw what happens to the Chiefs when Matt Cassel doesn't play. They were beat down by San Diego and truly missed their quarterback. Cassel says he's going to prepare this week like he'll play on Sunday. But can he really recover that fast from an emergency appendectomy?
- 15. Dolphins (7-6) | Last Week: 19
The offense was just good enough to win, even with Chad Henne completing just five passes. Credit the defense for shutting down the pedestrian New York offense. With home games against Buffalo and Detroit the next two weeks, the Dolphins could make a run at securing a wild-card spot. - RW
- 16. Colts (7-6) | Last Week: 21
Indianapolis isn't used to being in a fight for its playoff life this late in the season. But the Colts do control their own destiny. A win next week places them even with the Jaguars atop the division. Two more wins to close out the season, even if Jacksonville wins out too, would give Indy the title.
- 17. Raiders (6-7) | Last Week: 14
When the Raiders let their 10-point lead disappear on Sunday and finally lost to the Jaguars, they moved away from being in sole possession of their destiny. They'll need help from San Francisco this week and St. Louis as well, not to mention a few other unlikely scenarios.
- 18. Rams (6-7) | Last Week: 15
The Rams are "winning" the NFC West, even after suffering their second worst loss of the year in Week 13. It was Sam Bradford's third game of the season with no TDs and also his third game with multiple interceptions -- the latter is a solid stat for a rookie. The Rams have back-to-back home games ahead of them in their quest to go worst to first. - RW
- 19. Texans (5-8) | Last Week: 22
You'd almost rather get blown out than waste all that time and effort in the fourth quarter coming back, only to lose on a pick-six in overtime. But that seems to be the Texans' modus operandi this season, and their record shows it.
- 20. 49ers (5-8) | Last Week: 27
When was the last time a 5-8 team looked likely to win its division? The 49ers have already defeated the Rams once this season, and if they can repeat the feat in Week 16, they could sneak into the playoffs. They should have a hard time with the Chargers in Week 15, but 7-9 may be good enough to "win" the NFC West. - RW
- 21. Seahawks (6-7) | Last Week: 23
If you didn't know the respective records of the teams, you'd have a hard time correctly guessing which team was co-leader of the NFC West in Sunday's Seattle-San Francisco game. The Seattle running game continues to struggle, so unless Matt Hasselbeck is perfect -- and he wasn't in Week 14, with four INTs -- Seattle will continue to lose. - RW
- 22. Cowboys (4-9) | Last Week: 20
At this point in the season, the Cowboys are playing to escape last place in the NFC East. Things have taken a slight turn for the better under interim head coach Jason Garrett, with wins in three of their last five -- the losses coming to the Eagles on Sunday night and Saints in Week 12, but the 'Boys could win out the season and still wouldn't reach .500. - CS
- 23. Browns (5-8) | Last Week: 17
Prior to Sunday's game, if you would have told me that Peyton Hillis was going to run for 108 yards and the Bills were only going to put up 13 points, I would have lost a lot of money in Las Vegas. Fumbles and ugly execution killed the Browns and marred an otherwise wonderful second half of the season.
- 24. Vikings (5-8) | Last Week: 18
OK, so maybe switching to Tarvaris Jackson earlier in the season wouldn't have helped that much. This is a team that could look completely different come 2011. - CB
- 25. Redskins (5-8) | Last Week: 24
What really needs to be said here? The Redskins' epic PAT fail on Sunday to lose by one point to the Bucs perfectly sums up a decade and a half of mediocrity. Sure the 'Skins show intermittent signs of life, but they're constantly finding ways to shoot themselves in the foot. It's Cowboys week though, so assuming fans in the nation's capital haven't yet jumped ship, the Burgundy-and-Gold faithful will try to rally behind beating their most hated rival and finishing ahead of Dallas in the NFC East. - CS
- 26. Lions (3-10) | Last Week: 28
Detroit's incredible 19-game losing streak in the division is over. Sure, Green Bay had its backup QB in, but Detroit had to use third-stringer Drew Stanton. The best thing about the win for the Lions was how dominant their ever-improving defense looked. - CB
- 27. Cardinals (4-9) | Last Week: 30
Rookie John Skelton didn't have to do much to break the Cardinals' seven-game losing streak. Jay Feely and the Arizona defense kept the Cardinals ahead for most of their Week 14 game against Denver, while Tim Hightower iced the win in the second half. Beanie who? - RW
- 28. Bills (3-10) | Last Week: 31
The Bills gutted out a win in the cold in Week 14, further distancing themselves from the top of the NFL Draft. With three games against the rest of the AFC East remaining, that shouldn't be a problem moving forward. Why did they draft a running back in the top 10 in 2010? Fred Jackson continues to look like the real deal. - RW
- 29. Titans (5-8) | Last Week: 25
At 5-8, the Titans aren't mathematically eliminated, but they're hanging on by a thread. If they are bounced from playoff contention next week, the only thing left to do is play spoiler. They'll get that chance against two potential playoff teams in the final weeks: Kansas City and Indianapolis.
- 30. Broncos (3-10) | Last Week: 26
The Broncos gave up 211 yards on the ground to Arizona, the 31st-ranked rushing offense headed into Week 14. What do you think Oakland's Darren McFadden will do next week?
- 31. Bengals (2-11) | Last Week: 29
Carson Palmer threw not one, but two pick-sixes on Sunday. While that's evidence enough of just how bad he's been at times this season, look at the fact that he's also thrown three other interceptions-turned-defensive touchdowns this year. To put that into perspective, there are three quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, Michael Vick and Matt Cassel -- who have thrown fewer interceptions than Palmer has thrown pick-sixes.
- 32. Panthers (1-12) | Last Week: 32
Another week, another loss for the Panthers, who must look back at their sole win in Week 7 and breath a sigh of relief. Not only is the quarterback position a nightmare, but players are dropping like flies -- the team placed its 12th and 13th player on injured reserve on Monday. Don't expect this team to win again in 2010.