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NFL Power Rankings: Highlighting Teams on the Rise Heading into December

John RozumCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2016

NFL Power Rankings: Highlighting Teams on the Rise Heading into December

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    December is when seasons are kept alive or crushed in the NFL.

    This is the month when postseason implications affect outcomes to another level. We see teams find a rhythm or derail on a weekly basis. Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins are the prime example right now, exiting November on a two-game winning streak.

    The victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day was massive, because Washington will host Big D later on. Although the Redskins are just 5-6, they remain in a deep mix throughout the NFC playoff picture.

    As we see next, though, Washington is rising up the rankings right along with the intensity.

32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10)

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    Once again, the Kansas City Chiefs give an all-out effort against a superior opponent, but to no avail.

    K.C. went 0-of-2 inside the red zone vs. Denver and only 3-of-14 on third down. Jamaal Charles continues to be the lone producer on offense, although victory won't happen again without a better passing attack.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)

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    Perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars found their quarterback?

    Chad Henne has to be the guy after getting the Jags back in the win column by going 17-of-26 for 261 yards and two scores, one pick, against the Titans. And that happened while being sacked seven times.

    Provided the Jaguars improve pass protection, a strong finish is possible.

30. Oakland Raiders (3-8)

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    Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders failed miserably in the Carson Palmer Bowl.

    Playing against the Bengals, the Raiders managed only 10 points and Palmer was sacked four times. Oakland now rides a four-game losing streak with the confident Browns up next.

    Thereafter are the Broncos on a short week. In turn, Oakland can quickly enter the race for the No. 1 overall pick if its flops at home to K.C. in Week 15.

29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8)

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    The Philadelphia Eagles continued their losing streak on Monday night and fell 30-22 to the Panthers.

    Now having lost seven consecutive, Philadelphia can only hope to play the spoiler role from here on out.

    Rookie quarterback Nick Foles may have finished Week 12 with a 76.2 completion percentage; however, he totaled only 119 passing yards and was lucky to have multiple bad decisions dropped by Carolina's secondary.

    Unsurprisingly, Philly's fumblitis continues with running back Bryce Brown coughing up the rock twice. In addition, Brandon Boykin lost his only fumble and the defense failed to force any turnovers.

28. Carolina Panthers (3-8)

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    The Carolina Panthers may be 3-8; however, six of their eight losses are by six points or less.

    In short, the Cats typically play tough but fall short.

    Well, the only difference on Monday was Carolina going into Philadelphia and coming out with a win. Cam Newton accounted for four total touchdowns and the Panthers didn't turn the ball over.

    With the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders remaining, the Panthers have a shot to somewhat salvage their season by going 6-10. What a way to finish after such a horrendous start.

27. Tennessee Titans (4-7)

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    Flabbergasted is one way to describe the Tennessee Titans right now.

    As a team who defeated the Steelers and Dolphins, somehow Tennessee managed to lose games against the Chargers and Jaguars. By the current playoff race picture, the Titans defeated two potential January qualifiers, yet fell to two teams with dismal resumes.

    Sooner or later, Tennessee must find a defense without turning the ball over offensively, because losing to Jacksonville must raise concern.

26. San Diego Chargers (4-7)

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    The San Diego Chargers allowed the Ravens to convert a 4th-and-29 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.

    As expected, Baltimore then forced overtime and won.

    With 50 percent of Norv Turner's wins in 2012 coming against the Chiefs and his defense gives up a 4th-and-29, no word can describe that level of disappointment and frustration.

25. Arizona Cardinals (4-7)

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    At this point, it's basically a foregone conclusion that the Arizona Cardinals lose, give up multiple sacks and turn the ball over.

    It's simply a matter of how many times that will happen each week.

    On Sunday, rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley threw four picks — two of which were returned for a touchdown. Arizona lost to St. Louis 31-17 and the constant quarterback pressure combined with Lindley's inexperience was the difference.

24. Cleveland Browns (3-8)

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    Here's a team who literally fights for 60 minutes each week — the Cleveland Browns.

    No, the Browns don't impress with sexy stats and an explosion of points that burn the scoreboard. However, Cleveland forced eight turnovers on the Steelers in Week 12 and upset its bitter AFC North division rival.

    Provided the offense can score more consistently, the Browns have more potential than given credit.

23. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1)

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    The St. Louis Rams just swept the Cardinals on the year and are now third in the NFC West.

    Jeff Fisher's defense proved playmaking skills against Arizona. Their increased confidence may carry over into December. Still presenting decent balance offensively, St. Louis is capable of winning out if the defense hits another level.

    Regardless, it's clear the Rams are headed in a positive direction.

22. Buffalo Bills (4-7)

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    After winning at home against Miami, the Buffalo Bills put a strong effort on the road vs. Indianapolis.

    Unfortunately, Ryan Fitzpatrick only had a 51.5 completion percentage despite C.J. Spiller bowling for 107 rushing yards. Then again, going 4-of-13 on third down makes it tough to beat anyone on the road.

    Buffalo has not defeated a team currently sporting a winning record. Doing so is that the next step toward becoming a competitive team.

21. New York Jets (4-7)

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    It just keeps getting worse and worse for the New York Jets.

    Sure, a win over the Rams in St. Louis was nice, but following that up with five turnovers and only 19 points against the Patriots quickly made us forget about that Week 11 win.

    On the bright side, New York does have winnable games left against the Cardinals, Jaguars, Titans, Chargers and Bills. Obviously, though, none are locks based on Gang Green's inconsistency.

20. Miami Dolphins (5-6)

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    The 2012 season has been a roller coaster for the Miami Dolphins.

    Starting out 1-3 with two overtime losses, the Dolphins ran off three straight and then proceeded to drop three straight. Still, Miami displayed excellent focus after losing to Buffalo in Week 11 and responding with a Week 12 win over a tough Seahawks team.

    The good news is that the 'Fins are back in the AFC playoff race. The bad news is with both games against New England — with the 49ers sandwiched between — next month may prevent Miami from making the postseason.

19. Detroit Lions (4-7)

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    Although the Detroit Lions have significantly improved during the season's second half, the breaks are far and few between.

    Beginning 1-3, the Lions proceeded to win three of four. Unfortunately the Motor City has dropped three straight and the only bright spot is six of seven losses have come against teams with winning records.

    Even worse, the schedule is not getting any easier.

18. Dallas Cowboys (5-6)

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    Tony Romo attempted 62 passes on Thanksgiving Day and completed 37 for a 59.6 completion percentage.

    Too bad for Romo, though, because the Dallas Cowboys lost a nail-biter to the Redskins and continue to disappoint. Sitting at 5-6; however, Dallas is still in the playoff picture and has another game against Washington in Week 17.

    With nothing certain in the NFC right now, the win over Tampa Bay is keeping Big D alive for the time being.

17. Washington Redskins (5-6)

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    The Washington Redskins basically control their own destiny en route to the 2012-13 postseason.

    Having logged victories over Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Minnesota and now Dallas, the Redskins hold those tiebreakers and possess a 5-6 record.

    Entering December on a two-game winning streak, Washington has three divisional games remaining vs. each NFC East foe and the Ravens and Browns between. In short, don't be surprised if Robert Griffin III and our nation's capital are the Wild Card front-runners leading into the final week.

16. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)

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    It's been a rather whirlwind season for the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Kicking off the 2012 campaign at 3-1, Cincy dropped four straight and has flipped to enter December win three consecutive wins. Owning a 6-5 record with all winnable contests remaining, the Bengals are in the postseason mix.

    The defense has really stepped up recently and with one game left against the Steelers and Ravens, the AFC North still has much to settle if Cincy has anything to say about it.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

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    Sunday was a clear indicator of why Ben Roethlisberger is the Pittsburgh Steelers' best quarterback.

    Charlie Batch tossed three picks to Cleveland as the Browns upset Pittsburgh in Week 12. Dick LeBeau's defense put on a valiant effort with the offense turning the ball over eight times, because the Browns managed just 20 points.

    Altogether, the Steelers fumbled eight times and lost five.It's no surprise they lost. With three division games left, Pittsburgh won't find itself in January unless turnovers are held to a minimum.

14. New Orleans Saints (5-6)

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    There's no shame for the New Orleans Saints losing at home to San Francisco.

    Drew Brees and Co. were only down 28-21 entering the fourth quarter, so New Orleans proved once again to hang with some of pro football's best. That said, the Saints have a tough road ahead with the Falcons, Giants and Buccaneers through Week 15.

    Considering how close the NFC playoff race will be, New Orleans must win at least two of those games and get to 9-7 overall.

13. Minnesota Vikings (6-5)

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    Until the Minnesota Vikings find a more consistent passing game, the postseason is a tough get.

    In Week 12 Christian Ponder was limited to 159 yards and a 51.1 completion percentage. Obviously part of that was due to Percy Harvin's absence against a rough Bears defense.

    Nonetheless, Minnesota still ranks No. 30 in passing offense and other NFC Wild Card contenders present more explosiveness: Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Washington. Interestingly enough, two of those three defeated the Vikings and Minnesota has yet to face Green Bay.

12. Seattle Seahawks (6-5)

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    Losing on the road to the Dolphins was demoralizing for the Seattle Seahawks, because it came after a bye week and the Bears are up next.

    In addition, San Francisco won, which puts Seattle back just a bit more in the NFC West.

    Also, despite fielding a strong rushing attack and defense, the Seahawks may be in trouble down the stretch. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

    Seattle Seahawks starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are facing four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, according to league sources.

    Both Sherman and Browner tested positive for adderall and are appealing their suspensions, insisting they are innocent, according to sources. The appeal could be heard as early as this week.

    The remaining schedule is tougher than at first glance, so Seattle is in dire straits with December next.

11. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)

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    Week 12 was an enormous confidence-boosting win for the Indianapolis Colts.

    After getting pummeled by the Patriots in New England, Andrew Luck and Co. improved to 7-4 with a key win over Buffalo. And although tough games still lie ahead—namely both vs. the Texans — Indy is sitting pretty in the AFC's postseason race.

    As long as the offense continues to improve with balance and the defense applies more quarterback pressure, the Colts will be present in January.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers narrowly upset Atlanta at home in Week 12. Then again, the Bucs also fell to the Saints at home, which makes the road in December extensively more difficult.

    Having to play at Atlanta and New Orleans next month, the Buccaneers must find a way to improve the pass defense. It still ranks No. 32 and Tampa allows 315.5 passing yards per contest.

    For as reliable as the offense has been, January won't happen for the Bucs unless locking down better in coverage occurs.

9. Green Bay Packers (7-4)

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    Once again the defense and pass protection costs the Green Bay Packers against the Giants.

    Now yes, injuries have plagued Green Bay, but we've seen the Packers play well banged up in the past: Most notably, their Super Bowl run.

    Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times and that partially resulted in a 56.0 completion percentage. With four divisional games remaining, that won't be a cakewalk after what New York exposed of the Pack's inability to consistently control the line of scrimmage.

8. New York Giants (7-4)

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    Finally, the New York Giants got back on track.

    Getting a dominant victory over the Packers was clutch, because Big Blue now has enhanced confidence with a tough road ahead. Although Green Bay was banged up, it's not like the Giants, or anyone else, remains completely healthy all season.

    That said, the Redskins, Saints, Falcons and Ravens will be looking to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions. Week 13 will be a tough test as Eli Manning has struggled in Washington before.

7. Baltimore Ravens (9-2)

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    Since the smashing road loss to the Texans in Houston, the Baltimore Ravens have run off four straight and sport the AFC's second-best record.

    Week 12 was simply clutch, mainly due to the 4th-and-29 conversion to eventually force overtime and win. The defense still gives up 373 total yards per contest, but that is much improved compared to 2012's beginning.

    Also, according to Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports:

    A source close to [Ray] Lewis said the 37-year-old linebacker has been aggressively treating his triceps injury with a variation of the platelet-rich plasma therapy that helped injured Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Hines Ward return from a knee sprain to play in the team's Super Bowl XLIII victory. The source said Lewis could practice as soon as this Thursday — the day he's eligible to do so after having been placed on the "injured reserve designated to return" list six weeks earlier — and almost certainly will return sometime in the next month.

    Needing to make a run for a playoff bye, a healthier Ravens defense would really amplify Baltimore's Super Bowl odds.

6. Chicago Bears (8-3)

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    Week 12 was a key win for the Chicago Bears.

    After dropping two straight to the Texans and 49ers, Chicago's home victory over Minnesota keeps the division title shot in sight. In this game we also got to see Jay Cutler complete 74.2 percent of his passes and only get sacked one time.

    We know the Bears defense will continue to play well, so as long as the offense can run and minimize turnovers, Chicago will be fine. Even despite the multiple injuries, per Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago:

    [Devin] Hester was just one of five Bears who suffered game-ending injuries.

    "I normally don't write down injuries on a sheet, but we had so many I had to to remember them all," coach Lovie Smith said after the game. 

    Charles Tillman and Matt Forte both have ankle injuries and Chris Spencer and Lance Louis have knee injuries, knee sprains.

5. Denver Broncos (8-3)

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    The Denver Broncos have won six straight games, all against teams currently with a losing record.

    What that also means; however, is that the Broncos win when they are expected to win. Holding an 8-3 record and firm grasp atop the AFC West, Denver's three losses have come against Atlanta (10-1), Houston (10-1) and New England (8-3).

    So to a certain extent, the Broncos aren't underachieving or disappointing. If anything, we'll learn about Denver the most when it plays at Baltimore in Week 15.

4. New England Patriots (8-3)

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    Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots showed us on Thanksgiving Day why they are the standard of the AFC East.

    In slaughtering the Jets 49-19, the Pats created turnovers with technically sound hits and disciplined execution through each phase of football. Obviously, the pass defense remains a concern, so it's important to see how that aspect develops next month.

    Fortunately, we get to see New England against Houston and San Francisco. That will be fun.

3. Atlanta Falcons (10-1)

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    Defeating the Buccaneers on the road is arguably the Atlanta Falcons' best win to this point.

    Tampa Bay was riding a four-game win streak and the Falcons got it done. Why? Because Atlanta stepped up inside the trenches.

    Yes, Doug Martin ran for two touchdowns.

    However, he also averaged only 2.4 yards per carry and tallied just 50 rushing yards. Atlanta improved against the run, and if that becomes consistent, the Dirty Birds will only become a stronger Super Bowl contender.

2. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1)

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    Jim Harbaugh proved that it doesn't really matter who the San Francisco 49ers put under center.

    Both Alex Smith and Collin Kaepernick are reliable and can get the job done for the 'Niners, as we've seen all year. The recipe for San Francisco's consistency, though, is running the ball and playing defense.

    Drew Brees threw two interceptions that got returned for scores and the 'Niners collected 144 rushing yards. Keep that up and the Bay Area will roll through January.

1. Houston Texans (10-1)

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    Bad calls aside, the Houston Texans simply found a way to win against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

    Now yes, the touchdown run should have been called back. Nevertheless, the play occurred in the third quarter and anything could have unfolded thereafter.

    What's impressive was Houston restricting Matthew Stafford to a 50.8 completion percentage on 61 attempts. Despite no interceptions and only three sacks, that also displays blanketed coverage throughout.

    Much still remains to be proven; however, Houston remains at No. 1.

     

    Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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