The NFL has a decided shift heading into Week 12, and it starts at the top. The Houston Texans now hold the top spot for the first time this season, after romping into Chicago and beating the Bears at their own game.
The rest of the top 10 sees a shift with the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers, while the bottom-tier teams see little change after another week of making things easy for top opponents.
In the middle of the pack is where we see the most change, where teams like Dallas and New Orleans are still alive after big wins. Indianapolis is surging after a Thursday night win, and Pittsburgh found a way to win again—ugly as it was.
Here's a look at the NFL landscape after Week 11, with a look at teams rapidly moving up the charts.
1. Houston Texans
Houston played big-boy, NFC-style football in the win over the Bears. Turnovers and the weather threatened to play spoiler, but the Texans showed moxie and resolve that are traits of a champion.
They aren't a rapidly rising team because we've known all season how dangerous the offense can be and what kind of pressure this JJ Watt-led defense is capable of bringing.
Lost in the story is Wade Phillips, the former Dallas head coach now experiencing a revival as the defensive coordinator. Helping him along is former Cowboy linebacker Bradie James and a secondary that is one of the best in football.
2. Atlanta Falcons
After suffering their first loss of 2012, the Falcons don't drop too far down the list. Their 8-1 mark is still tied for tops in the league, and they continue to play close games in almost every contest. They can't be considered a rising team, especially after suffering their first loss of the year.
Still, this team is battle tested and the clear favorite to win the NFC. Don't dwell too much on the loss of the undefeated season—it could be a good thing.
3. Denver Broncos
There's no team more on the rise than Peyton Manning's Broncos. Completing a 36-14 win over the Panthers this weekend, they proved yet again they are a force to be reckoned with.
All three losses have come to teams near the top of these rankings and in the first month of Manning's return from a year-long hiatus.
The difference—this Denver defense is explosive with Von Miller and the rest of the front seven wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. Denver is rapidly approaching the top of the rankings, despite any chatter about them having three losses.
4. Green Bay Packers
Green Bay was off in Week 10. They continue to push for the top spot in the NFC North, and have another chance against the Bears coming up to help make their case for the top spot. By doing nothing this weekend they gained a few spots up the rankings.
5. Chicago Bears
They lost Jay Cutler, the game against the Texans and a lead on the Packers in the NFC North. The Bears are now treading water, as Jason Campbell steps in to take Cutler's place in the middle of an NFC North race.
Defense and experience will have to carry this team from here on out, especially with Cutler on the shelf and Green Bay lurking on the schedule.
6. San Francisco 49ers
Playing to a tie for the first time since 2008, the Niners managed to avoid a loss with Colin Kaepernick at QB for most of the second half. That's a huge win for Jim Harbaugh's team, especially with Smith expected to not miss much time with some key divisional games still to play.
They sit still in the standings for now. Clearly the defense and running game are both top notch, so nothing to worry about, San Fran fans. I still have them in the NFC Championship Game.
7. New England Patriots
The Pats took care of business against the Bills, but teams continue to expose a weak secondary and defense overall. Bill Belichick has to figure out where this defense is headed, because teams are consistently picking apart the coverage.
If it's not careful, the offense will have a letdown in a big moment. New England holds on for another week in the top 10.
8. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore continues to feast on inferior opponents. Oakland proved no match for the suddenly potent offense that put up 55 points, but the Steelers await next Sunday night. We'll know a lot more about Baltimore, and their defense, after next week.
I might be in the minority, but I think we'll be able to definitively say that this team is a contender or not after two games with Pittsburgh, not before. Same for the Steelers, who aren't too far below.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh found a way to win ugly on Monday night. They stay at No. 9 after beating the Chiefs, but lose QB Ben Roethlisberger in the process to a shoulder injury.
Can the running game survive a Big Ben-less offense? Byron Leftwich did nothing to calm fears, as Kansas City virtually gave the game to the Steelers in the overtime session. They've found the defense that wasn't there the first three weeks of the season, but it's the offense that now has question marks galore.
10. New York Giants
The Giants have looked bad in two straight weeks, completing theories of a November collapse being around the corner. It's hard to argue the way they played against the Bengals, and Eli Manning is suddenly struggling.
However, they still control their own destiny in the NFC East and have a comfortable two-game lead there. New York has room for error, and it decided to make Week 10 a jumping off point for that leverage.
11. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is a man among men. Simple as that for Minnesota, which stopped the bleeding by knocking off division rival Detroit. As long as Peterson is healthy, this team has a real shot at making the playoffs and giving anyone a challenge.
12. Indianapolis Colts
The feel-good team of the year gets another win over Jacksonville, putting its impressive Andrew Luck Year One total to six. That's good enough for a wild-card berth right now, although there's plenty to decide in the AFC.
Surprisingly, it looks like the Colts will have a good shot to get to nine wins and the playoffs. It will be tough to beat Houston even once, but the rest of the schedule bodes well (Lions, Bills, Chiefs) for the final three wins.
Indy has been inspired by coach Chuck Pagano, currently getting treatment for cancer. The team has played inspired, fun football and caught the eyes of the national media in the process. Wouldn't it be something if Manning and Luck were to square off in the first round? We can only hope.
13. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle may fall victim to the NFC West brutal schedule. They still have three games against divisional opponents remaining, and have a rookie QB at the helm. However, other than Luck, Russell Wilson has been the best QB of the rookie bunch this year.
Pete Carroll's return to the NFL has been a good one so far, and it's only going to get better.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A head-to-head loss to the Saints could put the Bucs lower down the list, but another win against the Chargers puts them in position to make a playoff run.
I'm not completely sold on the Bucs after wins over Oakland and San Diego, but I do like their resolve and fight for new head coach Greg Schiano.
15. New Orleans Saints
Make no mistake—this team is as dangerous as any the NFL has to offer. The rematch against Atlanta should tell us even more about this Drew Brees-led team than the first nine games did, and it could be a game that defines the NFC.
The Saints have a chance to run the table in the NFC South. They've already beaten Tampa Bay and Atlanta, and are starting to pick up the pieces on defenses.
New Orleans is the quietest and most rapidly moving team this week. Besides the Denver Broncos, they have the best offense and shot to give opposing defenses problems with so many different looks. Watch out NFC, the Saints are back.
16. Dallas Cowboys
I think Dallas has the schedule and the right pieces to make the playoffs. That being said, they don't make this week's list of teams moving up too fast to see.
Dallas was expected to beat a struggling Philadelphia team. Without Michael Vick, a loss to the Eagles would have moved Dallas down into the deep 20s. Let's see what they do with their backs less firmly pushed against the wall the next three weeks before making a firm call.
17. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals played inspired football on Sunday, sending the Giants home losers for the sixth time in six tries when playing in Cincy. It's the kind of performance that puts them on equal footing with division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but they'll have to continue to play that kind of grind-it-out game.
Still, they need to put together back-to-back games of this kind of effort to be considered a riser. Be happy about the results, but know that the true test will lie in the division, where it always does.
18. St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher has this team playing inspired football. The tie with the 49ers wasn't pretty, and surely has the team wishing they could have held on to two separate leads, but you have to be somewhat happy with the fight this team showed in Week 10.
They don't make the list of rapid risers this time, but a win in Week 11 would push them up the ranks.
19. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee is the biggest enigma in football. One week they run the ball well and control the pace over teams en route to victories. Other weeks, they look like a JV football team. On the bright side, Jake Locker looked great on Sunday against Miami.
20. San Diego Chargers
Another disappointing season in San Diego. The Philip Rivers-Eli Manning trade (despite the circumstances) continues to haunt this team. At the end of the year, it should be goodbye Norv Turner, whether they make the postseason or not.
21. Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill and Reggie Bush have both cooled off after hot starts to 2012, and seemingly lost their chance for a playoff bid with the loss to Indianapolis. However, Tannehill is the QB of the future, and this team did surprisingly well when no one gave them more than two or three wins to start the season.
22. Detroit Lions
It's been a frustrating year in Detroit. Injuries and underperforming players have been the hallmark of what is now a 4-5 season, and with the NFC North tough as ever, that's just not going to cut it.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick is out, Andy Reid is likely gone soon and the team is a pedestrian 3-6. Aside from San Diego, this is the team most rapidly sinking down the rankings. Things could get really ugly really fast for Philly.
24. Buffalo Bills
Chan Gailey joins a long list of coaches now on the NFL hot seat. It's a shame, but it's becoming apparent Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the answer at QB. The defense, which spent a bunch of money, also has plenty of room for improvement.
25. Washington Redskins
The Redskins were off in Week 10, but still have Robert Griffin III running the show. It's a bright future, but this season is over, as head coach Mike Shanahan put it earlier in the week.
Life is tough in the NFC East, and RG3 hasn't even seen the Cowboys yet.
26. New York Jets
Two words—Tebow time. The Jets are 3-6. Nothing left to lose, Rex.
27. Arizona Cardinals
Sink or swim is a popular expression in the sports world. The Cards are sinking right now, and after five straight losses they finally had a bye week to heal up a little bit. Kevin Kolb is still out and it doesn't get any easier (San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis again) to avoid even more struggles.
28. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have been competitive, have a great front seven and despite multiple injuries to key players, continue to play good football. But the little mistakes are what keep them from being in the same class as Atlanta and Chicago, two teams that they should have beaten early this season.
29. Oakland Raiders
Will Oakland keep head coach Dennis Allen around? He started the year off right with a win over Pittsburgh in the early going, but has since been unable to sustain the success. Oakland continues the search for key pieces in the secondary and a healthy running back.
30. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland gets Dallas in Week 11. At 2-7, they have to continue to get better at QB and RB, while preparing for next season. Cleveland has actually been in games this year, but youth and inexperience have plagued them when it counts.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
Should Jacksonville draft a QB? That's really the only question that remains after they've been relegated to spoiler yet again.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
A look at the Chiefs' season, courtesy of ESPN's SportsNation.
SportsNation (@SportsNation) November 13, 2012
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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