The NFL was full of surprises in Week 11, none more so than what we learned about teams on the rise and decline in the landscape of the league.
The Dallas Cowboys showed their true colors, as did the New Orleans Saints, although the two teams are moving in completely opposite directions. Houston and Atlanta remained in position for the top two spots, while Jacksonville and Kansas City continue to man the bottom two.
Here's a look at the NFL power rankings heading into Week 12, when games are starting to mean more than ever in terms of playoff positioning and tiebreakers for the final postseason spots. Get the debate started below—bragging rights mean more and more as we head down the stretch.
1. Houston Texans (9-1)
Houston survived the Jaguars on Sunday, and proved they know more than one way to win football games. Behind Arian Foster and a suddenly high-powered offense (yes, it was Jacksonville), there are so many ways to beat teams it isn’t even funny for coach Gary Kubiak.
2. Atlanta Falcons (9-1)
Like the Texans, the Falcons too know how to win games they aren’t supposed to win. Arizona jumped out to a quick lead, but Atlanta managed to hold on to the game and the No. 2 spot in this week’s rankings. We didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know about this team—they’ve shown resolve that will be tough to match in the playoffs.
3. San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1)
Colin Kaepernick can play a little bit, folks.
He led the Niners to a big win over the suddenly reeling Bears, who miss Jay Cutler so much their defense decided to take the week off. Kaepernick brings an element to the offense that Alex Smith simply doesn’t. Controversy brewing in San Fran? Who starts at QB when Smith is healthy?
4. Denver Broncos (7-3)
Peyton Manning and a defense? Enough said. The Broncos now have a commanding lead in the AFC West and an inside track on one of the conferences first-round byes. They have an easier schedule the rest of the way than Baltimore, right behind them on this list.
5. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
I love what the Ravens were able to do against Pittsburgh, but beating Byron Leftwich is hardly a selling point for this team. Good news—the defense only allowed 10 points. Bad news—Ed Reed feels the first wrath of the NFL for hard hits.
6. New England Patriots (7-3)
The Pats finally played some defense, and it showed in the final score. In doing so, they helped to expose some of the problems in Indianapolis, namely how turnovers can plague a rookie QB. New England appears to be back on track, although tough games against Houston and two against rival Miami still loom.
7. Green Bay Packers (7-3)
Green Bay picked up a tough win against a division rival, and no matter the score, they’ll take it. Aaron Rodgers has willed this team back from a rough start, and despite injuries on both sides of the ball, they keep winning.
The Packers are the dark horse team from the NFC, and can beat any team in the conference on any given Sunday. We learned that on Sunday, even against the lowly Lions. It’s time to give them some more respect in the rankings, and as they continue toward a playoff push start to recognize them as contenders yet again.
8. Chicago Bears (7-3)
Uh-oh, Bears. Jason Campbell wasn’t on defense trying to contain Kaepernick, but he certainly helped contribute to some of the woes on offense. He’s not aggressive, making the offense extremely lethargic. Jay Cutler, where art thou?
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Seattle was off this weekend, but the Seahawks quietly find themselves in the lead for the last playoff spot in the NFC. There’s still conference games to play and a slew of 6-4 and 5-5 teams behind Seattle, but things are promising for Pete Carroll right now.
10. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
Minnesota was also off, and it is hoping for the return of Percy Harvin back to 100 percent. Concerns about Christian Ponder are still there, but if Adrian Peterson is playing like the best back in football it will be hard to deny Minnesota a chance to win each week.
11. New York Giants (6-4)
The Giants are the third team in a row on a bye week, but they have some major concerns coming away from the off week. They have to address the passing game and secondary in Week 12, but as in recent years, they are always dangerous to break these rankings wide open.
12. New Orleans Saints (5-5)
Yes, it was Oakland. And yes, there’s a long way to go before we anoint the Saints as back into the elite class of the NFL. But the Saints are also one of the teams on the rise, and one of the teams that we learned the most about.
New Orleans has a tall task ahead of itself. At 5-5, it has to leapfrog at least four teams to make the playoffs. One of those teams is NFC South rival Tampa Bay, so that will be a must-win game later on. Still, this offense is lethal, and the return of Joe Vitt has energized their efforts. I like this Saints team down the stretch.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
Cincinnati continues to feast on other teams not in the AFC North. This week it was the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. Games against Dallas and back-to-back contests against Pittsburgh and Baltimore will define the Bengals’ season.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
The Bucs continued their recent success against Carolina, holding on in overtime to beat Cam Newton. However, there are major concerns with the secondary, and if this offense can compete against Atlanta and the rest of the big players in the NFC.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
With news that Leftwich was playing with two broken ribs against Baltimore, things just keep getting worse for the Steelers. Injuries to QB and safety, arguably the high points for both units, threaten to keep them out of the playoffs. It’s time for some of that old Steeler resolve to kick in.
16. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
The Cowboys are officially the most average team in professional sports. With a chance to take a positive step towards the postseason, they let Cleveland take them to overtime before squeaking out an undeserved victory at home.
This Dallas team is not ready for the postseason, not ready for next week and not ready to even sniff the words Super Bowl. It’s time to give up on the dream, Jerry. Week 11 proved that Dallas is not an NFL contender.
17. Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
The Colts were revealed as one of the NFL’s bright spots that still have a few years to go on Sunday. The Patriots dismantled the Colts from the ground up, starting with exposing Andrew Luck as still an NFL rookie.
Indy has a long way to go, but some solid production from key spots will still get this team a playoff spot. However, Houston is looming twice, as is Tennessee. I’m not sure Indy can survive long enough to get to the promised land.
18. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
If Norv Turner isn’t fired and a serious consideration not given to blowing this thing up, I’ll be at a loss for words. Barring a Christmas miracle, San Diego is headed for the NFL draft yet again.
19. Detroit Lions (4-6)
Detroit has had some hard luck with injuries to key pieces, and Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson haven’t had the kind of season many projected them to have. Chalk it up to the Madden Curse and start planning for next season, Detroit.
20. Washington Redskins (4-6)
Washington put the nail in the coffin for Andy Reid on Sunday. Robert Griffin III is going to be a bona fide star in this league, and he throws one of the prettiest deep balls this league has ever seen. That hasn’t translated to wins, but Washington is going in the right direction.
21. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
The Titans were off in Week 11, but will come back looking to salvage what’s been a tough year for QB play. Jake Locker looked great against the Dolphins, giving the team hope for a bright future at the position, and if he can stay healthy Tennessee is one of the most mysterious teams in football.
22. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
The honeymoon period is over in Miami. After Reggie Bush and rookie Ryan Tannehill had this team in playoff contention, the wheels have fallen off the past two weeks in losses to Tennessee and Buffalo. Another solid draft and some additions in the front seven will help make Miami dangerous in the next couple of seasons.
23. New York Jets (4-6)
Mark Sanchez again held off critics in the win over the Rams. He’s the starter, will be the starter until the season is over, and the Jets appear ready to take down the ship with Sanchez at the helm.
It’s hard to say that we found out a lot about the Jets after a win over the mediocre Rams, but it’s clear they are living in the world of a Tebow-less paradise.
24. Buffalo Bills (4-6)
Without Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller can once again shine. It’s time for this high-priced defense to start shining over the final few weeks of the season. Is Chan Gailey’s job safe? Gailey could be the new Norv Turner by the end of the year.
25. St. Louis Rams (3-7-1)
Has there been a harder-luck team than St. Louis? Only three wins, yet they’ve played competitive football against most teams and been in position to win. They even have a tie on their resume, coming at the hands of one of the top teams in football.
However, it’s clear that the Rams are once again headed for a high draft pick. They’ve taken positive steps in the coaching department and on defense, steps that haven’t yet shown up in the win-loss column.
26. Arizona Cardinals (4-6)
I’ve been quite hard on Arizona all season, not ready to crown them after a 4-0 start. I like the defense, and the playmakers on this team are some of the best in football. But without a QB or consistent offensive line play, you can’t win in this league—period.
27. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7)
How’s that Michael Vick deal looking now? Philadelphia might feel the need to blow up the “Dream Team” after just two sub-par seasons. Andy Reid might or might not retain his job, but after years of being so close, the nostalgia won’t be enough to not make some major changes this offseason.
28. Carolina Panthers (2-8)
Like St. Louis, Carolina has been in position to win games. That was the case again this weekend, when they lost to Tampa Bay in overtime. Carolina doesn’t have a closer, and that includes Cam Newton. They need major help on the offensive line going forward, and need to find that killer instinct to win games.
29. Oakland Raiders (3-7)
When Darren McFadden went down, so did the season. I think Dennis Allen is safe, but he’s going to be in a tough position next year. Oakland fans have suffered for quite some time, and they haven’t been happy since the Rich Gannon days. (Imagine that!)
30. Cleveland Browns (2-8)
Cleveland was in position to beat the Cowboys, but was unable to hold off the overtime drive that did the team in. They too could use some killer instinct, though Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson were both great draft picks.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
Surprisingly, we learned exactly who Jacksonville is this weekend. With Chad Henne, they have some weapons on offense and didn’t miss Maurice Jones-Drew against Houston’s vaunted secondary.
Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts both torched the Texans' defense, and in the process re-opened the Blaine Gabbert can.
Dare Jacksonville take a QB when selecting this April? They committed to Gabbert, but the results just haven’t been there. Chad Henne took them up and down the field all afternoon, so something’s got to give.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-9)
Kansas City dropped another decision, scoring just six points against Cincinnati. They’ll win one more game this year playing spoiler to a better team, but not much else. We’ve seen all we care to see from the Chiefs.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for the Dallas Mavericks and member of Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team.
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