Each week is an entirely new battle for NFL teams to find out about their football identity. In that sense, some teams need this week more than others.
San Francisco continues a quarterback transition when it travels to St. Louis, even though it hovers around the top of these rankings. That’s a first for an elite team this late in the season.
The same can be said for fringe-playoff teams such as Seattle, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay who all need victories in games they have no business winning. Such is the difficulties of earning a postseason bid.
Check out these Week 13 power rankings with what to look for from each NFL team this weekend. Consider this your viewing guide for Sunday.
1. Houston Texans (10-1)
Houston may overlook its matchup with Tennessee because of its meeting at Foxboro in two weeks. The Texans continue to hold the top spot until further notice.
2. Atlanta Falcons (10-1)
Jacquizz Rodgers’ emergence has given Atlanta a new element in the passing game. Watch for him to become a huge weapon on third-down passing situations.
3. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1)
A quarterback controversy rules the headlines, but will the 49ers be able to replace Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams down the stretch? Those few touches may be the difference between a playoff loss and a Super Bowl berth.
4. New England Patriots (8-3)
The Patriots offense gets its stiffest test in weeks against a stingy Dolphins defense. Still, Miami has yet to face a barrage of weapons armed with an elite quarterback. Advantage: Pats.
5. Denver Broncos (8-3)
From whom is Denver going to get help in the running? This offensive success won’t last if Peyton Manning is the only player holding the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Playoff teams can run the ball.
Regardless, no letdown game leads to a rise in the rankings for Denver.
6. New York Giants (7-4)
Will the Super Bowl champions continue their dominant play against Green Bay or regress to their sense of entitlement after beating one of the game’s best on national TV? A Monday night game time should raise the intensity in the locker room.
7. Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
Stretching into the first six weeks of the season, Joe Flacco and the passing offense was thought to be the team’s motor. Cam Cameron needs to decide if the Ravens are going to revert to the Ray Rice show or if they’re going to get better through the air.
8. Chicago Bears (8-3)
The Bears have dismantled their inferior competition on the schedule, but Seattle may be their “toughest” opponent yet. They need to show the league they’re not fragile, even with Matt Forte out.
9. Green Bay Packers (7-4)
Even with all its offensive talent, is this team truly a contender? The Vikings sport a similar, yet less effective formula to how the Giants beat the Packers last weekend: rush the passer and execute efficient offense.
Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, though, will need otherworldly games against this angry Packers squad. More on this later.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)
The Bucs are the best team not in the playoffs at this moment, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier from here. Can they beat an elite team on their home field? A win over Denver would answer that.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)
If the Bengals have the mettle to be a playoff team, they’ll keep this winning trend alive. A trip out West to San Diego will catapult them into sure playoff contention.
12. Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
The Seahawks could suffer a significant blow if Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are served with four-game suspensions. Their defense will have to compensate with a ferocious pass rush.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
Can Pittsburgh get its act together if Ben Roethlisberger can’t go? One of the NFL’s steadiest franchises is at a valley of uncertainty.
14. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
Whether Indianapolis can win on the road will be in question against a struggling Lions squad. A winnable game, but much more likely in its dome in Indianapolis.
15. New Orleans Saints (5-6)
The Saints defense needs to shore up in four days' time to prepare for another high-octane offense in Atlanta. A desperate team is calling for a playoff performance from its troubled unit.
16. Washington Redskins (5-6)
If RG3 is ready for the big-game spotlight right now, he’ll follow up his masterful performance in Dallas with another against the Giants on Monday night. Then again, maybe we’re asking too much of the rookie sensation.
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-5)
Is Christian Ponder doomed to put up mediocrity for the entire second half? He should wake up soon or Minnesota could be quarterback hunting next season for good measure.
18. Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
The Cowboys are favored by more points against the Eagles than any other game this year. How will they allow their division rival to make it a game? A blowout is no longer a possibility the way they’ve performed all year.
19. Miami Dolphins (5-6)
Their defense will certainly keep them in games, as it has this entire season, but will the Dolphins’ West Coast attack light up the scoreboard against New England?
The song is not over for this Miami team, which stands only one game behind the Steelers for the AFC’s final playoff spot. An upset special would send Miami into a playoff frenzy.
20. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1)
Can the Rams give the 49ers all they can handle again? In this year’s NFC West, this clash has become bearable television.
21. New York Jets (4-7)
The Jets will put up 40 points on the scoreboard this weekend against Arizona. Just kidding, I couldn’t tell you what happens this weekend.
22. San Diego Chargers (4-7)
San Diego fans still have Philip Rivers, but how bad has his regression become? Last week's overtime collapse gives the fans more of a reason to stay home, if they didn’t have one already.
23. Tennessee Titans (4-7)
Is this Tennessee good, terrible or somewhere in between? Playing Houston will not shed any light on the truth.
24. Detroit Lions (4-7)
With the postseason long gone, will the Lions pack it in or play spoiler? They could certainly do damage to Indianapolis’ playoff chances with a home win on Sunday.
25. Cleveland Browns (3-8)
The Browns don’t go down easy, and they showed they’ll pounce on a victory if they’re given the chance. Now they have a game they should win against the Raiders. Let's see how they do outside the underdog role.
26. Buffalo Bills (4-7)
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s tryout for the Bills job has five games to go. Will he do anything to give Bills fans a reason to say yes?
27. Arizona Cardinals (4-7)
Will John Skelton get another chance? If not, the Cardinals should just put Larry Fitzgerald at quarterback. The offense needs him to touch the ball on every play.
28. Carolina Panthers (3-8)
Ron Rivera’s job looks to be safe, but Cam Newton should replicate Monday night’s performance to get the critics off of his back.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8)
Philadelphia, you are proud owners of the most confounding team in 2012. Nick Foles and Bryce Brown lead an entirely different offense and hope to direct-snap their way to a victory over Dallas.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)
Could Chad Henne be the quarterback of the future for this franchise? He’ll get a five-game tryout to be the 2013 starter over Blaine Gabbert or a rookie draft selection.
31. Oakland Raiders (3-8)
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen must be having issues dealing with all facets of the team because this Raiders defense can’t stop anyone. Wasn’t he supposed to have a positive impact on that unit?
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10)
Jamaal Charles keeps running for meaningless yards, while the Chiefs try to not lose obviously for the No. 1 pick. Sorry Chiefs fans, but this is reality.
Mike Shiekman is a member of B/R's Breaking News Team. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealShiek