It was the New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, and then everyone else.
In one week, everything is different.
New England remains an unstoppable powerhouse, knocking off a formerly 7-2 Lions squad with the league’s top scoring defense, and a new team from the NFC slid into the spot vacated by the exploited Arizona Cardinals. After these two teams, everyone else remains a question mark. The Cowboys and Eagles are still solid contenders while the Chiefs and Lions took another step back and, while by no means out of consideration for a playoff spot, suddenly find themselves in the thick of a fight from which they were previously safe.
Now, as we head into Thanksgiving Week, fans of the National Football League, as a whole, will be thankful for the full slate of games coming up in Week 13, including two fantastic showdowns on Thanksgiving Day – 8-3 Eagles at 8-3 Cowboys and 7-4 Seahawks at 7-4 49ers.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)
It is now bordering on ridiculous. Maybe the Lions are the weakest of the Patriots’ recent opponents, but it does little to diminish the fact that the Patriots were the first team to break the 24-point barrier against the Lions, pounding Detroit 34-9. Every facet of New England is dangerous, and the Patriots continue to stand atop the Power Rankings as the league’s best team. At least, we may see a true battle for first place in Week 13 when the Patriots travel to Lambeau Field to battle the Packers.
2. Green Bay Packers (LW: 2)
While they might trail the Arizona Cardinals by a game in the race for the NFC’s top seed, no team outside of New England has been as dominant in recent weeks. The final score of their win against the Vikings does little to diminish the run the Packers are currently experiencing. In fact, back-to-back 50-point blowouts were certain to lead to an eventual return to earth, but the key is that Green Bay did not get caught napping in Minnesota. The Packers remain one of the best teams in the NFC, and with losses by both the Lions and Cardinals, the powerhouse from Green Bay has climbed yet again. They enter Week 13 with the spotlight on their matchup with the Patriots, in a true clash of two titans.
3. Denver Broncos (LW: 5)
As difficult as it was to move the Broncos two slots higher than last week, the Broncos’ recent stretch of football has been all the more dubious. Even with an 8-3 record and a one-game lead in the AFC West, the Broncos simply appear to be less dominant than they should be. In fact, they almost look laboring at times. Peyton Manning finally has an excellent defense – fifth-fewest yards allowed – at his back, and the quarterback is having his usual incredibly great regular season. But pushing the Broncos above teams like the Chiefs and Cardinals is more playing the odds that the talented Broncos have the brightest future of the next tier of teams that follow the Patriots and Packers.
4. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 2)
It was only a matter of time. Backup quarterback turned starter Drew Stanton has filled in nicely for the injured Carson Palmer, but even the strength of the Cardinals, as a whole, could only survive Palmer’s absence for so long. Eventually, Stanton would be asked to win a game against a dangerous opponent. When he was tested in Week 12 in Seattle, he and the Cardinals came up empty. Going forward, Arizona remains in a fantastic position thanks to a 9-1 start and the second-best scoring defense in the league, but the glass jaw of the Cardinals has been exploited, and things may come crumbling down quickly now that the NFC smells blood in the water.
5. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 7)
“What can they do when it matters most?” Is that not the question always asked of the Dallas Cowboys? How about another late scoring drive in the national spotlight to win on the road? The defense, largely considered in the preseason to be a weakness that cannot be overcome, has only allowed 30 points in a game once this season. And with the sixth-best scoring offense, Dallas hasn’t needed much more to come from the defensive side of the football, anyway. Now 8-3 and with a healthy Tony Romo, the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving matchup with their co-leaders of the NFC North from Philadelphia becomes must-watch football.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 8)
The Eagles may have a different quarterback under center from the one who opened the season, but Philadelphia has hardly changed its identity. At 8-3 and tied for the NFC East lead, the Eagles aren’t just better than your average team, they are a cut above. With five double-digit wins against teams with losing records, Philadelphia has impressively not fallen victim to any ‘trap games’ this year – the combined record for the Eagles’ three losses against the 49ers, Cardinals, and Packers is 24-9. With both the Cowboys and Eagles winning in Week 12, the Thanksgiving matchup between the two NFC East co-leaders could not have come at a better time.
7. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 10)
Don’t declare the defending champions dead just yet. Like a pack of hungry sharks, the Seahawks watched the wounded fish from Arizona – personnel-wise with the loss of Carson Palmer – splash into dangerous murky waters. They pounced. Even with a relatively subpar season by their standards – Seattle accumulated more losses by Week 11 of this year than all of last season, including the playoffs – the Seahawks’ oddly placed division games in their schedule helped keep alive dreams of another NFC West title. They helped their case in a big way by knocking off the Cardinals in Week 12, and still have four of their six division games ahead of them to wrap up the season.
8. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 9)
No team has benefited more from an easy strength of schedule than the Indianapolis Colts. Now at 7-4 and the only team with a winning record in the AFC South – including two teams that have a combined three wins – the Colts racked up another victory over a terrible franchise when they beat the Jaguars by 20 in Week 12. With little competition in the division, the Colts should cruise to a playoff berth, but they need to be held accountable for their disappointing 2-4 against teams over .500.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 4)
This one has to hurt. Not only did the Kansas City Chiefs lose a gut-wrenching game in Oakland in Week 12, but they stormed back from a two-touchdown deficit at halftime to take a lead into the final minutes of the game before Oakland capped off the upset. On paper, the loss seems unacceptable – in ten previous attempts this season, Oakland has not been able to secure a win – but the Chiefs traveling to a hostile environment on a nationally televised game should have put Kansas City on high alert. Such is the way of the NFL, as unforeseen upsets happen weekly, but now the 7-4 Chiefs must host the Denver Broncos. In a two-game stretch against the Raiders and Broncos, Oakland had to be the game the Chiefs won. Now, the pressure is on to see if Kansas City could pull off an unexpected home victory of its own.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 12)
Just when you think you have the Bengals figured out, they mix it up again. At 3-0, Cincinnati looked to be building off the campaign of the last four seasons that led to an increase in win total each subsequent year. With two losses and a tie in the following weeks, people began to question whether or not the Bengals have run out of gas. Now with four wins in its last five games, Cincinnati again looks like the team most capable of winning the wild AFC North race. The Bengals cannot afford to fall asleep in Week 13 as they travel to play the terrible Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, because this might be their best chance at an ‘easy win.’ After Tampa Bay, the Bengals play four straight games against teams with winning records – Denver, Cleveland, and twice against Pittsburgh.
11. Detroit Lions (LW: 6)
The second-place Detroit Lions look vastly different from the 7-2 team we saw pull out one heroic victory after another before heading to Arizona and New England in consecutive weeks. The last-minute comebacks orchestrated by the Lions appeared to be the sign of a team capable of winning every time it takes the field, especially with the league’s top-ranked defense. Now, it looks like the real Detroit Lions are the inconsistent bunch that manned the field the other three-and-a-half quarters of most of their games. After losses to two top-ten teams – Cardinals and Patriots – in back-to-back weeks, the Lions’ fast start to the season has since been erased with inabilities to rise to the occasion when the competition stepped up. At least their next opponent is the 5-6 Bears in Detroit for the Lions’ annual Thanksgiving game.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 11)
Currently percentage points out of first place in the AFC North – thanks to tie between the Bengals and Panthers in Week 6 – the Pittsburgh Steelers entered their bye week on a solid streak of four wins in their last five games. Of course the one loss – in New Jersey against the terrible Jets – is unacceptable, and the Steelers did trail for a large portion of their Monday Night Football game in Tennessee, but style points are thrown out the window when assessing the AFC North. Just win games. With two matchups against the division-leading Bengals in their final five games, Pittsburgh will need to do just that to pull ahead by season’s end.
13. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 16)
They had to join the party, didn’t they? With the rest of the AFC North at 7-4 – excluding the ugly 7-3-1 record posted by the Bengals, the Ravens had to keep pace when they traveled to New Orleans on Monday night. Baltimore did, indeed, knock off the Saints in their own building largely on the legs of running back Justin Forsett and moved back into a tie for second place in the division with everyone else. Baltimore’s biggest hurdle remains its 2-3 division record, so the Ravens will likely have to pass the rest of the AFC North altogether in order to secure a home game in January.
14. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 14)
Has any three-game winning streak this season been more tumultuous? The 49ers have just beaten the Saints, Giants, and Redskins – a combined 10-23 – by no more than a touchdown in each game, including fourth quarter deficits in two of the three. Somehow, a 49ers team that appeared dead in the water has turned a 1-2 and 4-4 campaign into a 7-4 season heading into a massive Thanksgiving Night showdown against the Seahawks. Nothing about San Francisco’s season should lead to confidence that they will stay alive in the playoff race – the 49ers have only had two double-digit wins all season – but enough wins have made an improbable playoff push a possibility. Until they can actually create some distance between themselves and the rest of the NFC, the 49ers are still a lifeboat waiting to sink.
15. San Diego Chargers (LW: 15)
In what is forever a recurring theme, the Chargers have now won two consecutive games to pull back within one game of the AFC West lead in what has now become a feverish three-team race. San Diego looks completely average when compared to the team that started the season 5-1 – the Chargers eclipsed 30 points in four of their first six games, but have not done so since – but wins against the Raiders and Rams have helped right the ship. San Diego currently looks like the odd man out behind the Broncos and Chiefs – San Diego’s last three wins have all been by a touchdown or less – and the Chargers play each of the divisional teams they are chasing, as well as the Ravens, Patriots, and 49ers.
16. Miami Dolphins (LW: 13)
Almost. The Dolphins’ Week 12 loss in Denver is merely a microcosm for their season as a whole – almost. They almost beat the Broncos – in truth, the Broncos eventually pulled away, but Miami led by double-digits entering the fourth quarter. They almost beat the Packers – had it not been for a last-second touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers. And they almost beat the Lions – ditto the remark about about the Packers, only insert Matthew Stafford. Almost. The one saving grace for a Dolphins team that is playing a level much higher than their 6-5 record would indicate is that they likely would have never caught the 9-2 Patriots in the division anyway. At least, with two of their five losses coming against non-conference opponents, the Dolphins could conceivably go on a run that puts them in the playoffs. After all, they are good enough.
17. Cleveland Browns (LW: 17)
In what ended up featuring one of the best finishes of any game this season, the Cleveland Browns squeaked by the Falcons in Atlanta via a last-second field goal. Little could actually be taken from the strength of the win, but the fashion in which the Browns tallied their seventh victory of the season is yet another feather in the cap for a team that has consistently pulled out games late. Survival in Atlanta also means survival in what has been a hectic AFC North race from the start. Forgive us for not piling back on the Browns’ bandwagon by beating the Falcons after losing in Houston, but Cleveland, along with the rest of the division, is currently operating on a week-by-week basis.
18. Buffalo Bills (LW: 18)
Displaced from their homes due to multiple feet of snow pounding the Buffalo area, the Bills were forced to move their home game to Ford Field in Detroit. They promptly pounded the Jets on Monday night in an effort to transpose the effects of the snow onto their weaker opponent. Buffalo likely lost any real opportunity for a playoff push when they lost to Miami in Week 11, but the Bills have at least moved out of the basement of the AFC East. They are good, just not good enough.
19. Houston Texans (LW: 19)
Average. The Texans are neither a bad nor good team. Houston is merely average. The Texans have wins against the Raiders and Titans; those teams are awful. The Texans have lost to the Eagles and Colts; those teams are very good. With that, Houston is exactly what its record and results tend to portray. Mathematically, the Texans entered Week 12 with a chance to eventually catch the Colts atop the division – technically, they still do – but logic would dictate that Houston’s playoff bid was officially rejected when they lost to Cincinnati. Worse, the short-term trial period of quarterback Ryan Mallett appears to have ended as well, as reports have indicated that he will miss the remainder of the season. With a miraculous run to the playoffs unlikely, Houston might turn to rookie Tom Savage in an attempt to get an early look at the potential future direction of the franchise.
20. Chicago Bears (LW: 23)
Don’t start planning any parades in Chicago. While the Bears have now won back-to-back games for the second time this year, their two opponents have been the 4-7 Vikings and 2-9 Buccaneers. The Bears still remain a mess on the field, but the two wins have helped calm the storm that was quickly converging on the Chicago area. At least, for now.
21. St. Louis Rams (LW: 21)
That’s the Rams. Get blown out by the Vikings; hang with the Cowboys. Lose by two touchdowns to the 49ers; beat the Seahawks. Then go to San Francisco and enact revenge two weeks later. And then beat the Broncos by double-digits. St. Louis simply can’t be explained. When facing yet another team with a winning record, the Rams came within one errant pass of either tying or winning their game in San Diego. While it is a tall task to ask any team to continue to run the gamut of giants and slay them all, the difference between a Rams team in the playoff chase and a 4-7 squad that has shown the ability of greatness is a matter of a few key games – leading the Cowboys by 21, losing to what has become a terrible Vikings team, and Week 12’s loss against the Chargers. Good teams find ways to pull these out, regardless of opponent. St. Louis is an average team with great moments.
22. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 20)
It’s tough to consider any loss by a 4-6 team ‘disappointing,’ but the Atlanta Falcons were dealt a potentially deadly blow when they lost to the Browns at home in Week 12. Even with a losing record, the Falcons sat atop the NFC South prior to the game and led by a single point in the final minute of play. They still have yet to look deserving of a playoff spot, but at least the Falcons had been playing better before blowing a game they needed to win. They remain the frontrunner in the horrific divisional race, but more because of lack of competition than anything the Falcons have done.
23. New Orleans Saints (LW: 22)
The NFC South keeps knocking on the door of the New Orleans Saints, and they keep turning it away. When the Falcons lost on Sunday, the Saints entered their Monday Night Football home game as leaders of their pathetic division. Sixty minutes later, they were back behind the 4-7 Falcons, in second place only due to a tiebreaker. No one wants to win the division, apparently, yet the Saints continue to be the obvious safe bet based on pedigree. After a while, however, one would have to believe that this simply isn’t their year.
24. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 24)
While the rest of the football-watching world knew that their season was likely over by Halloween, the Minnesota Vikings entered their bye week in Week 10 on the heels of back-to-back wins. Since returning to action, Minnesota has subsequently dropped consecutive games to division opponents by one possession in each. Now, at 4-7, even the Vikings have to accept their position behind Green Bay and Detroit in the division and battle Chicago to stay out of last place.
25. Carolina Panthers (LW: 26)
Losers of five straight games, the Carolina Panthers entered their Week 12 bye a sputtering mess. Everything about the team is in disarray, from the one time fan-favorite Cam Newton to the defense that took the league by storm one season prior. Thankfully for the Panthers, the NFC South is so horrible that, even at 3-6-1, they aren’t dead yet. But what a turnaround it would take for Carolina to even play the role of a playoff team, let alone deserve a berth.
26. New York Giants (LW: 25)
What would otherwise have gone down as ‘just another Giants loss’ – in fact, the sixth consecutive – ignited an internet firestorm on Sunday Night Football when wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made one of the most incredible, impossible touchdown catches ever witnessed. The only significance of this catch is that, well, it was the only significant part of what had become another dismal game in a dismal Giants season. At least, the Beckham catch has once again given the Giants relevancy in football conversations. After all, how did he physically stop the rotation of the ball at such an angle? Oh, the point of the Power Rankings is to rank the Giants? Okay then. They’re terrible.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 27)
There are no moral victories for teams that are as bad as the Buccaneers, so the fact that Tampa Bay has avoided blowouts in each of its last five games – the worst loss was by ten points against the Falcons – speaks volumes for a team that has only been able to win one. Leading by ten at halftime, the Buccaneers and former Bears Josh McCown and Lovie Smith looked poised to enact revenge before reverting back to the Buccaneer versions of themselves. There was actually a legitimate belief that a third win by the Buccaneers could have kept them alive in the NFC South race. Now, the team will simply play out its string of games and hope to play spoiler going forward.
28. Washington Redskins (LW: 28)
The Redskins are in serious trouble. Not simply because they can’t win a game, but because they can’t possibly go into next season without solidifying the direction of their quarterback position. Washington traded nearly everything in its possession to be able to draft Robert Griffin III years ago, but it is looking like a catastrophic mistake every time the quarterback drops back and throws an off-balance pass. Maybe he can rekindle the magic he showed in his rookie year, but nothing of value will come from this season at this point.
29. Tennessee Titans (LW: 30)
Thoroughly overmatched – the two words that not only described the Titans’ loss in Philadelphia on Sunday, but the season as a whole. Trailing 17-0 in what seemed like an eyeblink, the Titans were well on their way to their ninth loss of the season when it became painfully clear that same cavalry that arrived against the Steelers on Monday Night Football was not invited to this game. Sure enough, the onslaught continued to the tune of a 19-point loss in what would end up being the highest point total of the week – Philadelphia’s 43 points. Now 2-9 and on a season-high five-game losing streak, the Titans will play four consecutive games against teams with a losing record before hosting the Colts in Week 17.
30. New York Jets (LW: 29)
The Big Apple Circus, err, New York Jets continued their laughable season with yet another blowout loss when the Bills tore them apart on Monday night. The performance was so bad that the 38-3 final score makes the game seem closer than it actually was. The viewing audience should consider themselves lucky to have had the opportunity to change the channel and watch the other Monday Night Football game. When the Jets host the Dolphins next week on primetime, America won’t be so lucky.
31. Oakland Raiders (LW: 32)
It had to happen. The Oakland Raiders finally completed a game in which the number on their side of the scoreboard was higher than the number on their opponent’s. Surprisingly enough, the Raiders’ Thursday Night Football victory over their hated rivals from Kansas City was not against a pushover team. The win was hard-earned and even included a go-ahead touchdown drive when trailing with under two minutes to play in the game. Is this the start of something new? Absolutely not, as the team could not have possibly gone winless all year. But, at least for right now, the Raiders have moved away from last place in the Power Rankings.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 31)
It was only a matter of time before the Oakland Raiders won their first game. Once that happened, it would be impossible for Jacksonville to hold its head above water and stay out of last place in the Power Rankings. Sorry, Jacksonville. Blame the Chiefs. Or the fact that you have failed to competitive in nearly every game this season.