NFL Power Rankings 2012: Surging Teams Who Will Make Deep Run in Playoffs

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Defensive tackle Domata Peko #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals  celebrates a tackle in the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 2, 2012 in San Diego, California. The Bengals defeated the Chargers 20-13.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The NFL season is winding down, so the haves are starting to break apart from the have-nots.

The deeper the season goes, the more it becomes apparent what teams are made of. Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals are starting to get hot, which would be great going into the playoffs.

There's also a team like the Green Bay Packers, who started the season 2-3. They're beginning to kick things into high gear, which is scary for any opposing team when the playoffs arrive.

Here's the NFL power rankings going into Week 14. Teams to watch come the postseason are underlined.

1. Atlanta Falcons (11-1)

It's hard to argue that the Atlanta Falcons aren't the best team in the league. They were able to avenge their lone loss after beating the New Orleans Saints, 23-13. The week prior, Atlanta won a tough game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A matchup with the Carolina Panthers looms, the Falcons are sure to move to 12-1. Sure, Atlanta has plenty of question marks, but at this point in the season there's nobody better in the NFL.

2. Houston Texans (11-1)

After consecutive overtime wins, the Houston Texans were able to finish off the Tennessee Titans in regulation, 24-10. A win over the New England Patriots Monday night will see Houston usurp the crown as best in the NFL from the Falcons.

3. Denver Broncos (9-3)

The Denver Broncos are the hottest team in the league, winning their last seven and eight of their last nine games. There's a very real possibility that Denver could go into the playoffs having won 11 games in a row. Defenses have to be dreading facing Peyton Manning in the postseason with the way he's been playing.

4. New England Patriots (9-3)

With their 23-16 win over the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots clinched the AFC East, their 10th division crown in 12 years. Even though they have a head-to-head win over the Broncos in Week 5, Denver has arguably eclipsed New England up to this point. The Patriots' Monday night game with the Texans is one of the most exciting matchups of the season.

5. Baltimore Ravens (9-3)

Despite losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens are still a very good football team. The return of Ray Lewis in the coming weeks should bolster their defense. Giving up the kind of performance like they did to Charlie Batch isn't encouraging, but it's likely an outlier.

6. San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn't have the best of times against the Rams this past weekend. The 49ers shouldn't be considered in the elite class until their game with the Patriots in two weeks. They're a very good football team, but Kaepernick as well needs to prove himself a little more.

7. Green Bay Packers (8-4)

The Green Bay Packers struggled a bit early in the season. Nobody was under any doubt over the talent they possessed, though. It now looks as if the Packers were getting all their bad football out of the way. The loss to the Giants is bad, but no team would want to face the Packers in the postseason.

8. Chicago Bears (8-4)

The Chicago Bears have been stumbling a bit recently. They've lost three of their last four games. It's unlikely that will become four of five as they have already beaten the Minnesota Vikings, their opponents this weekend, 28-10.

9. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)

There comes a time when even the greatest superlative cannot properly convey the reality of a situation. That's where Andrew Luck is at right now. With the play of Luck and the motivation of "Chuckstrong," the Indianapolis Colts can be a major threat in the playoffs just a year after finishing 2-14.

10. New York Giants (7-5)

At a certain point, you have to stop speculating as to how good of a coach Tom Coughlin is and how good of a team the New York Giants are. Seemingly every season they hit a rough patch where Coughlin is fighting for his job and questions surround Eli Manning. They haven't been great this year, but the Giants are a team to watch come playoff time.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

The Cincinnati Bengals have been a team on the rise in the past few weeks. Their schedule has been very favorable and they're playing the kind of football that can see them do some serious damage in the postseason. Andy Dalton already has a playoff game under his belt, and that experience will be invaluable down the line.

12. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)

As long as Charlie Batch is the quarterback, question marks need to remain. His performance against the Ravens was very good, but Baltimore's defense has dropped off a little bit this year. An elite quarterback isn't necessary for winning the Super Bowl, but Pittsburgh's running game needs to be more consistent if it's to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

13. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)

Last week was a real missed opportunity for the Seattle Seahawks. They could have made up some ground with the 49ers' loss, but instead they let an easy one slip by, losing, 24-21, to the Dolphins. They still have a spot in the Wild Card Round, though. The Cardinals provide the perfect opponents in order to get back to winning ways.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)

Tampa Bay has lost their last two, but that shouldn't be a huge surprise, coming against the Broncos and Falcons. The Buccaneers could realistically be looking at a 9-6 record going into the last game of the regular season, at which point they would face a Falcons team that might rest some starters going into the playoffs.

15. Washington Redskins (6-6)

It doesn't matter how good Robert Griffin III is, one man can't turn a franchise around all by himself. The Washington Redskins are on the way up this year, but it's still going to take time until they factor in the playoff picture.

16. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

The Dallas Cowboys have a rough road ahead. Their final four games are against the Bengals, Steelers, Saints and Redskins. They're on the outside looking in in terms of the playoffs, but winning three of four could mean earning a spot in the postseason.

17. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

Adrian Peterson can't carry the Minnesota Vikings' offense alone. Until Christian Ponder presents a credible threat through the air, the Vikings won't be able to become anything more than an average team. The NFC North is a competitive division, so their margin for error is very small.

18. New Orleans Saints (5-7)

The New Orleans Saints were on the rise, but the loss to the Falcons really stalled their momentum. As good as Drew Brees is, he can't make up for what is a very below average defense.

19. New York Jets (5-7)

It was only a matter of time before Mark Sanchez was benched. New quarterback Greg McElroy offers some hope for Jets fans, but this is a year that needs to be quickly forgotten by everybody involved.

20. Miami Dolphins (5-7)

The Miami Dolphins have played well over the past five weeks, aside from Week 10 against Tennessee. They've had close losses against Indianapolis, New England and Buffalo. Don't be surprised if they make it a game against the 49ers on Sunday.

21. St. Louis Rams (5-6-1)

Sam Bradford has definitely gotten back on track after regressing last year. He's a huge reason the St. Louis Rams find themselves on the precipice of a playoff spot. A very winnable game against the Bills Sunday gives the Rams a great chance to build great momentum in pursuit of the postseason.

22. Buffalo Bills (5-7)

Even with their record, the Bills are still a couple of games out of a playoff spot. This season has been progress compared with the past couple of years in Buffalo, but fans should have expected a little more with the AFC East as open as it is.

23. Cleveland Browns (4-8)

The Cleveland Browns have been playing much better than their record would make you think. They're not a good team, but by no means are the Browns worthy of the bottom of the league rankings.

24. San Diego Chargers (4-8)

Unfortunately, there's no way the San Diego Chargers can return from their annual midseason slide. Norv Turner is going to be out of a job at season's end.

25. Detroit Lions (4-8)

While they might not be as frustrating as the Eagles or Panthers, the Detroit Lions have been a confounding team the entire season. Their close loss to the Texans on Thanksgiving could have been a spark, but instead, the Lions followed it up with a close defeat to the Colts.

26. Tennessee Titans (4-8)

Chris Johnson's return to form has largely been lost in the Titans' poor season. A game with the Colts Sunday means Tennessee will be looking at a three-game losing streak.

27. Arizona Cardinals (4-8)

After winning their first four games, the Arizona Cardinals have turned around and lost their last eight games. Sundays 7-6 loss against the Jets was one of the most boring games of the season. With a relatively tough schedule ahead, the Cardinals could likely lose 12 games in a row to close out the season.

28. Oakland Raiders (3-9)

The Oakland Raiders have the worst point differential in the league at -141 points. A matchup with the Denver Broncos is unlikely to help that.

29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-9)

Per ESPN, the Philadelphia Eagles are starting Nick Foles for the rest of the 2012 season. It's doubtful he'll make any sort of impact, but it's something.

30. Kansas City Chiefs (2-10)

By virtue of their 27-21 win over the Panthers, the Chiefs have gotten themselves out of the cellar. There's nothing left to play for in terms of standings, but Kansas City will play inspired football down the stretch.

31. Carolina Panthers (3-9)

The Panthers have been woeful this season, and 2012 has almost certainly reached its nadir for Carolina after their 27-21 loss to the previously 2-9 Kansas City Chiefs. It's not going to be much better with the one-loss Atlanta Falcons coming into Charlotte.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)

Whatever magic Chad Henne had has worn off. He threw for 208 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Bills. The Jets have been very good against the pass this year, so Henne isn't going to be able to recreate his performances in Weeks 11 and 12.


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