Several playoff contenders took a step backward in Week 13 of the 2012 NFL campaign and were exposed.
Of course, there is always opportunity to set things right (see: New York Giants, last season). The ultimate goal is to simply make the playoffs and then catch fire once you're there.
Still, there have been some troubling signs from playoff contenders lately. If they are going to make a deep run (or make the postseason at all) they are going to have to at least improve in certain areas.
Here are my Week 14 NFL power rankings, complete with playoff contenders who should be worried at the moment (in italics).
Note: Week 14's Thursday night game is included
1. Houston Texans (11-1)
The Texans are one of only three teams with more than nine wins this season. They have averaged 29.3 points per game (second in the NFL) and allowed 18.4 points per game (fourth). You can't get much more dominant than that.
2. Atlanta Falcons (11-1)
The Falcons haven't exactly had the strongest strength of schedule so far and they haven't blown up a lot of opponents, but you can't ignore that this defense is much better than last season's unit.
3. New England Patriots (9-3)
The Patriots have the league's best offense and you can't deny that the run defense has been light years better than in 2011.
4. San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)
While the 49ers are still a top-five squad in my eyes, losing to the St. Louis Rams tends to drop you down a couple of spots. The one thing that isn't been talked about is the loss of change-of-pace back Kendall Hunter. Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs combined for 64 rushing yards on 27 carries against the Rams.
5. Denver Broncos (10-3)
Peyton Manning has been one of the best quarterbacks in football this season (just like any other season) and Denver's defense has been solid.
6. Green Bay Packers (8-4)
The Packers have a better defense than last season and still have an offense that can put up some points, but there is no question this isn't the same offense as in 2011.
7. Baltimore Ravens (9-3)
The Ravens aren't scoring a lot of points this season, which was evident in the 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. The mercurial Joe Flacco must step up.
8. Chicago Bears (8-4)
The Bears' offensive line still worries me and Matt Forte has had a bit of a drop-off this season. You add that to the injuries this season and Bears fans have a reason to be worried.
9. New York Giants (7-5)
The Giants have been inconsistent this season. That hasn't been more evident than the past two weeks, when they crushed the Packers, then lost to the Washington Redskins. The defense has generally been solid, but the inconsistency of the offense is troublesome.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
The Bengals have had a up-and-down season, but they are currently on the upswing. Winners of four straight, the offense and the defense appears to be working in unison. This could be a dangerous team if it makes the playoffs.
11. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
The play of Andrew Luck this season has been astounding, particularly his ability in clutch situations. The defense, while not great, has been better.
12. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
Make no mistake about it, this is a playoff-caliber team. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson continues to grow, the Seahawks still have Marshawn Lynch and the defense has allowed 16.8 points per game (third in the NFL).
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
Hopefully the return of Ben Roethlisberger boosts this team because we all know the running game is pitiful and the defense is older. Kudos for the hard-fought win over the Ravens, though.
14. Washington Redskins (6-6)
Robert. Griffin. The third. The rookie sensation has single-handedly lifted the Redskins on his shoulders in the past three wins and his dual-threat ability makes them mighty dangerous. Don't forget about rookie running back Alfred Morris, too.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)
The Buccaneers have simply lost to better teams the past two weeks, but the defense has been a problem all season long and the offense has to score major points to win ball games.
16. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
You never know what you're going to get with this team each and every game and the .500 record is appropriate. The upcoming game against the Bengals is vital for Dallas.
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
At some point, you have to start pointing fingers at second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who has simply been awful this season. Adrian Peterson rushed for almost 100 more yards than Ponder threw for against the Packers last week. Ouch.
18. St. Louis Rams (5-6-1)
Another team with quarterback problems and a horrible offensive line, but the defense under Jeff Fisher has noticeably improved and the Rams still have Steven Jackson in the backfield.
19. New Orleans Saints (5-7)
When Drew Brees starts throwing five interceptions, you know something is horribly wrong in New Orleans. The defense hasn't exactly been spectacular this season, either.
20. Miami Dolphins (5-7)
The good news is that Ryan Tannehill didn't throw an interception last week. The bad news is that he didn't throw a touchdown, either, and the Dolphins are averaging 18.9 points per game (27th in the league).
21. Detroit Lions (4-8)
The rising defense from last season is nowhere to be found and Matthew Stafford hasn't been the same quarterback, either.
22. Buffalo Bills (5-7)
The Bills have a rushing attack that should make them proud and the defense appears to be coming around. As long as Ryan Fitzpatrick can stop throwing interceptions, they have hope (that was a joke).
23. New York Jets (5-7)
In the modified words of Happy Gilmore, "Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, who gives a hoot." Perhaps Greg McElroy is the answer under center. Then again, we may never know with the way this franchise does business. Oh yeah, and the running game is awful, too.
24. San Diego Chargers (4-8)
Here's to hoping the Chargers figure out how to win ball games in the future. It will probably help if they stop turning the ball over. Then again, what do I know? I'm not a brilliant head coach like Norv Turner.
25. Cleveland Browns (4-8)
The Browns have a middle-of-the-road defense and a 29-year-old quarterback who likes to throw interceptions. Every time I do these power rankings, I shed a tear for the city of Cleveland.
26. Tennessee Titans (4-8)
The Titans don't like to play defense and they don't like to score points. That was clear in the 24-10 loss to the Texans last week, as if we needed any more evidence.
27. Arizona Cardinals (4-8)
The Cardinals make the Jets' quarterback situation look like a dream. Their starting running back also rushed for 22 yards on 15 carries last week against the Jets. This is why they are averaging 15.5 points, the worst mark in the NFL.
28. Carolina Panthers (3-9)
The Panthers' explosive offense has sunk and the defense just gave up 27 points to the Kansas City Chiefs. And what has happened to the once-vibrant rushing attack? DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have combined for 3.5 yards per carry this season.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-9)
Eagles quarterbacks have averaged 37.4 attempts per game this season, ninth-most in the NFL. Interesting, considering Philadelphia has LeSean McCoy and an explosive rookie in Bryce Brown in the backfield.
30. Oakland Raiders (3-10)
The good news for the Raiders? Well, there is no good news. They were just outclassed by the Broncos and they lost to the Browns in Week 13, 20-17. How does a team coached by a former defensive coordinator give up so many points?
31. Kansas City Chiefs (2-10)
The Chiefs rose from the bottom of the rankings last week with a victory over the Panthers. It was one of few bright spots in an ugly season.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Perhaps Chad Henne isn't the savior at quarterback, after all (insert sarcasm here). Also, this defense is doomed against any offense with any kind of clue.
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