Another wild day in the NFL lends a lot of uncertainty and a significant shakeup to this Week 11 edition of NFL power rankings. There weren't many shocking upsets to speak of, but several teams whose stocks were soaring after Week 10 suffered a huge letdown.
But let's focus on the positives—those confirmed their legitimacy as playoff contenders—in this examination of all 32 teams at this critical juncture of the 2012 season.
1. Houston Texans (8-1)
Not only are the Texans playoff contenders, they have to be thinking Super Bowl as they reign atop the rankings this week. A gutsy 13-6 victory at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday night proved that this isn't the typical bunch that always got beaten by Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.
Houston is finally backing up the hype, building off of last season's division title with a balanced offense and all-around stout defense coordinated by Wade Phillips.
This might be the most talented roster across the board in the NFL, and the Texans are proving that they can win ugly.
That's been the case the past two weeks, but the record speaks for itself.
2. Atlanta Falcons (8-1)
It was bound to happen. This Falcons team wasn't going undefeated with a lackluster running game and a bend-but-don't-break defense. New Orleans QB Drew Brees finally made the elastic Atlanta defense pay in the Superdome, and Matt Ryan couldn't quite rally the team late in Saints territory.
With so much playmaking ability in the passing game and several matchups against soft secondaries remaining, the Falcons still have the inside track to the NFC's No. 1 seed.
3. Baltimore Ravens (7-2)
It pains me to rank this team so high, but the Ravens simply overcome every bit of adversity thrown their way despite the continuous questionable strategy of not giving Ray Rice enough touches.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron stubbornly places the ball in QB Joe Flacco's hands, but it's somehow working. Against the Oakland Raiders defense, which had shown improvement until its debacle in the past two games, it's hard for anything not to work.
Nevertheless, a 55-20 win is impressive no matter which way you slice it. The defense has managed to overcome the loss of stud CB Lardarius Webb and legendary linebacker Ray Lewis to be a respectable unit.
The argument against Baltimore: One victory by one point over one winning team, the New England Patriots in Week 3. In a weak AFC, though, there aren't many winners to match up with anyway.
4. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
Alex Smith may be out for an extended period with a concussion, but Colin Kaepernick looked extremely impressive in relief. Although he didn't ultimately lead the Niners to victory, his incredible athleticism and surprising poise should hold the fort down until Smith returns.
5. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
Aaron Rodgers and Co. were doubted early on, but his famous hushing of critics proved to be accurate. The Pack have won four consecutive games and will gear up for a key two-game road stretch against the Detroit Lions and New York Giants.
6. Chicago Bears (7-2)
The only reason Chicago is slotted this low is because of the injury to Cutler, who was knocked out of the Texans game with a concussion.
That said, no matter who is quarterbacking the Bears in this next stretch of games—at San Francisco, two games versus Minnesota with a home game against the Seahawks in between—it may be trouble for the current No. 2 team in the NFC.
7. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Will the Seahawks lose at home? OK, technically they did lose to Green Bay in the infamous Monday Night Football replacement ref saga, but the win-loss column doesn't say so.
Rough back-to-back losses to San Francisco and Detroit on the road had the Seahawks' season in jeopardy until two consecutive home victories over the Minnesota Vikings and most recently, the hapless New York Jets.
Had the Niners lost on Sunday, Seattle would have only been a half-game back for the division lead. If the 'Hawks can somehow lock up a home playoff game, they would be an extremely dangerous team in the postseason.
Rookie QB Russell Wilson may not be asked to do too much, but he has excelled when the ball has been put in his hands. He's thrown for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions at CenturyLink Field, and shows progress every single week.
Not to mention, this is the fastest, most athletic front seven in football with the biggest, most physical secondary.
With a bye week to prepare for Miami and a critical showdown with the Bears thereafter, the next two road games will be a huge indicator of where the Seahawks stack up. But they look pretty darn good.
8. New England Patriots (6-3)
Beating the Buffalo Bills by only six at home? Really?
Doesn't matter. The Pats are still lighting up the scoreboard and should walk away with the second or third seed in the AFC regardless. No one in their division appears capable of challenging them, but Bill Belichick better find a way to improve that pass defense moving forward.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
Let's just assume this record will jump to 6-3 and the Steelers will continue rolling toward the postseason, possibly even overtaking Baltimore for the AFC North crown.
Not much new happening here—fewest total yards allowed, and one of the most clutch QBs in Ben Roethlisberger still doing his thing.
10. Denver Broncos (6-3)
Doubting Peyton Manning is never a good idea. That hasn't changed in 2012, as he continued striding toward an MVP-caliber season in helping the Broncos take a commanding two-game lead in the AFC West—with a tiebreaker to boot.
I thought the schemes of Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera would confuse Manning into mistakes and create a Week 11 upset special.
That didn't happen.
Manning threw for 301 yards on 27-of-38 passing, with a 10-yard touchdown to Brandon Stokley in Denver's dominant 36-14 victory on the road.
The Broncos defense wasn't shy about taunting Carolina QB Cam Newton about his "Superman" celebration, and the team appears to be rolling toward a possible first-round bye with such an easy schedule remaining.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4)
Holy Josh Freeman. 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and an NFL-best 8.27 yards per attempt. Don't call it a comeback.
Granted, the Bucs QB has benefited greatly from breakout first-round pick Doug Martin absolutely destroying opponents as of late. He had a relatively quiet game against the San Diego Chargers with 68 yards rushing and 51 yards receiving. I know, that's a quiet game for Martin lately.
The former Boise State standout is tied for fourth in the league in rushing with Titans resurgent RB Chris Johnson.
Undrafted CB Leonard Johnson made the play of the game for Tampa, which needed to stop Philip Rivers somehow with its last-ranked pass defense. He picked off an ill-advised Rivers throw and took it 83 yards to the house to boost the Bucs over .500.
First-year head coach Greg Schiano has the Bucs rolling toward a possible postseason berth thanks to an explosive offense and mistake-free football.
12. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Andrew Luck continues to live up to the hype, and the Colts continue to rally around head coach Chuck Pagano, whose leukemia recently went into remission (h/t Boston.com).
This inspirational story has to be considered among the best underdog stories in recent NFL history. A 2-14 team blows up the roster for the most part, snags a new coach and gets the right man under center in Luck to lead the way.
It wasn't surprising at all that Indy avenged its earlier defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night by drubbing their AFC South foes 27-10. What is surprising is that the Colts have even gotten to this point—a 6-3 record and a legitimate chance at the postseason.
The defense is improving by the week, and interim coach Bruce Arians is proving more than capable of steering the ship in Pagano's absence.
The Colts are Chuckstrong, and that could easily drive them to a 10-win season.
13. New York Giants (6-4)
The G-Men still lead the NFC East, sure, but how good is that division? Also, what happened to Eli Manning over the past month?
This is a classic Giants storyline, as they seem to always rally with their backs against the wall. But that early-season blowout victory over the Niners seems like a distant memory. All is not lost for Tom Coughlin's team, but serious questions need to be answered during the pending bye week.
14. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
Are we really sold on Minnesota? It's hard not to be after another beastly game from Adrian Peterson in the team's second victory of the year over NFC North rival Detroit.
Even without the services of No. 1 receiver Percy Harvin, the Vikings were able to do enough to post a victory at home and save the season from slipping away. As one of the surprise stories of the season's first half, it looked as though Minnesota would fade.
But a bounce back game from QB Christian Ponder and a stellar effort from the defense for three quarters renewed playoff hopes for the Vikings.
Two of the next three games are against Chicago, with a trip to Lambeau Field sandwiched in between. If Minnesota wins even one of those games, it will legitimize itself as a true playoff contender.
Until then, it's hard to give the Vikings a truly ringing endorsement. However, they do currently occupy the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
15. New Orleans Saints (4-5)
With four wins in the past five games, Drew Brees is truly a magician under center in New Orleans. That defense is still horrendous, and until a substantial improvement is made, the Saints are going to have an extremely difficult time negotiating their schedule
16. Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
This perceptibly stacked team plays one team with a winning record the rest of the way. It's still well within the realm of possibility that the Cowboys can win the NFC East, but they don't have a winning record yet, either.
That said, if Dallas can continue playing big on defense and QB Tony Romo can limit mistakes, maybe America's team isn't in such a bad spot after all.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (4-5)
Was Week 11 an aberration? Sky-high expectations seemed to plague this Bengals team during its recent four-game slide. Suddenly, Andy Dalton looked like the franchise QB Cincinnati thought it had, tossing four TDs against a helpless Giants secondary.
Oh, and the defense totally shut down Eli Manning, which is no small feat. Manning has been in a rather extensive slump though, and the Bengals still have to face Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the final two games.
Don't jump on the playoff bandwagon just yet.
18. Detroit Lions (4-5)
For whatever reason, Jim Schwartz's team just can't get off to a strong start. The Lions fell into a hole too deep to climb out of, and their seemingly improved defense didn't put forth a good effort in a 34-24 loss at Minnesota.
Matthew Stafford threw for over 300 yards again, but a lot of those yards were inconsequential with Detroit so far behind. A squad that looked like an emerging playoff contender just a week ago self-destructed once again.
19. St. Louis Rams (3-5-1)
Rookie kicking sensation Greg "Legatron" Zuerlein would have booted his team to victory in overtime at San Francisco if not for a delay of game penalty.
The return of WR Danny Amendola clearly helped the offense. Sam Bradford finally looks like he's settling in under center, and the defense held its own against dynamic backup QB Colin Kaepernick of the Niners.
This team is mired in an extremely tough NFC West, but looks like it can compete significantly in 2013.
20. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
Frequently blown out this season, the Titans have won the past two starts when QB of the future Jake Locker has finished the entire game.
A 37-3 dismantling of Miami on the road in Week 11 was incredible, lending credence to the notion that both Locker and middle linebacker Colin McCarthy could key Tennessee to a late-season push toward salvaging a respectable year.
Playoffs seem a bit unrealistic at this point, but you never know.
21. Miami Dolphins (4-5)
That whole mistake-free Ryan Tannehill trend ended abruptly on Sunday, as the No. 8 overall pick threw three picks against the Titans. Talk of Joe Philbin as coach of the year and a possible postseason berth for the Dolphins seemed to have evaporated significantly with such a flat performance.
22. San Diego Chargers (4-5)
Head coach Norv Turner went on a bit of a tirade against the media, and who could blame him? His job security isn't exactly sound, and he has to be tired of answering questions about his Chargers consistently falling short of expectations. It might be time for a fresh start in San Diego.
23. Washington Redskins (3-6)
Unless the bye week created some sort of defensive revelation, the Redskins will continue to be plagued by one of the league's worst defensive backfields. Opponents also seem to be catching on to what the Washington offense is doing with No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III.
24. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
Remember when the Cards were off to a 4-0 start and near the top of early power rankings? Yeah, I barely do either. They still have a solid defense, but problems on the offensive line and lack of a viable QB have doomed Arizona.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)
Fans are clamoring for the end of the Andy Reid era in Philly. $100 million quarterback Michael Vick may be out of a starting job at year's end, too. It's an unmitigated mess for the Eagles franchise, and the team's record should be so much better with all the potential on the field.
26. Carolina Panthers (2-7)
In Cam Newton's astonishing rookie campaign, the defense could be blamed for Carolina's woes. But now the finger has to be pointed at the top pick of the 2011 draft, because he simply isn't getting it done.
27. Oakland Raiders (3-6)
Don't blame Carson Palmer for how bad the Raiders are. Inexperienced receivers, no running game and no defense don't translate to victories no matter who is taking the snaps.
28. New York Jets (3-6)
Come on, Rex Ryan. It's Tebow Time. Just give in. Mark Sanchez is clearly not the answer at quarterback in the Big Apple, and the Jets would be doing NFL fans a favor by plugging in the polarizing backup QB. Sunday's loss in Seattle virtually dashed any playoff hopes for this team.
29. Buffalo Bills (3-6)
Who would have thunk it? A back-breaking interception by Ryan Fitzpatrick cost the Bills a chance at a shocking upset in Foxboro.
The 37-31 loss to the Patriots was heartbreaking, and commend Buffalo for fighting hard. But between Fitzpatrick's erratic decision-making and the continuously poor defense, the Bills are still in a perpetual struggle in the AFC East.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
Not much to report out of Cleveland during the bye week. As the AFC's only current two-win team, the Browns are deserving of being slotted this low, despite the fact that they've only been blown out once all year.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7)
The only reason KC gets the nod over the Jags for the 31st spot is due to their young core of players who inspire at least some optimism for the future. That hope will go flat, though, until the Chiefs get a new coach and a new quarterback.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
Head coach Mike Mularkey has always taken on extreme challenges in his ventures as the head honcho. This stint in Jacksonville was no exception, and the team looks destined for the No. 1 overall pick without superstar RB Maurice Jones-Drew in the lineup.