I have one rule when producing power rankings. Teams don't get punished for being on bye weeks.
But what about the opposite? Had the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Cleveland Browns, I'd have had no choice but to move the idle New York Giants up a spot on this list. Dallas didn't play well, but it survived. So it's a virtual tie in my mind.
Now I guess I have a second rule: Ties go to the incumbent. We're keeping Dallas on top of the division's power rankings for at least seven more days.
1. Dallas Cowboys (5-5, first last week)
They have to make a statement Thursday against the Washington Redskins. This is a team that has stayed above water but hasn't been able to blow anyone away with a heavyweight punch. Can the Cowboys continue to beat bad teams in unimpressive fashion and still make the playoffs?
I don't think so. The Cowboys need a big offensive performance while also making plays on defense. Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware are playing well enough for that to happen. So if the offensive line can hold up, Thursday could be that opportunity to set the tone for the home stretch.
2. New York Giants (6-4, second last week)
I think it's weird that the Giants haven't played well in about six weeks and haven't won since October. That's why this week's matchup with Green Bay is so crucial. It won't be doomsday if they lose, but the Giants must prove that the bye week got them back on track.
I'm expecting better focus and more energy from a team that looked tired.
I don't believe the Giants believe in this November slump. I think they're too well-coached and too experienced to care that they have a track record of struggling in 11th month of the year.
This is a game they can win to regain momentum, so I'm fully expecting them to put their best foot forward Sunday night.
3. Washington Redskins (4-6, third last week)
The Shanahans deserve an award for the way in which they've utilizing Robert Griffin III. I mean, the kid doesn't look anything like a rookie. He's super-efficient and smart for a quarterback with his free-wheeling style. He's like everything we always wanted Michael Vick to be, and he only has 10 games under his belt.
What's more, he has a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Washington can so beat the Cowboys Thursday, setting up a head-to-head matchup with the Giants in Week 13 in which the division lead could be on the line. That's amazing considering how many injuries they've had and how little hope there was just a week ago.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7, fourth last week)
No hope is left here. What's more considerate, putting Andy Reid out of his misery or sparing him the embarrassment and firing him after the season? That boils down to whether the Eagles can accomplish something without Reid now.
Either way, it's become apparent this team needs a new head coach, an entirely new secondary, drastic changes up front defensively, several new offensive linemen and, of course, a new quarterback. So there's a lot of work to be done, and the clock is already ticking toward 2013.