Parity is alive and well in the NFL.
Heading into Week 14, only four teams have 10 or more wins. Meanwhile, the middle class is burgeoning like it's the French Revolution: 13 teams have between five and seven victories.
But for this week's rankings, we take a look at the lower class––teams that have struggled this year but still have something left in the tank. Particularly considering who they play this coming weekend.
So without further ado, here are your Week 13 power rankings, with an emphasis on low-rated teams that will pull upsets on Sunday.
1. Houston Texans (11-1)
Welcome back, Andre Johnson. After looking, dare I say, over the hill during the middle of the season, the All-Pro has ripped off three 100-plus-yard receiving games in his last five. That includes a 14-catch, 273-yard, two-touchdown effort against Jacksonville. He'll be imperative against the Pats' burnable secondary this weekend.
2. New England Patriots (9-3)
Speak of the devil. New England has ripped off six straight wins (by an average of 19.8 points) and sit atop the all-important Football Outsiders efficiency rankings. It's unlikely that they'll sweep Houston and San Francisco these next two weeks, but it's even less likely that they'll get swept.
3. San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)
Maybe St. Louis just has their number? Even with an 0-1-1 record against their division rival, the Niners are still alpha males among boys––especially in the NFC. Is there a team you'd rather see less in the playoffs?
4. Denver Broncos (9-3)
The hottest team in the NFL got another solid win on Thursday, a ho-hum 13-point drubbing of the Oakland Raiders. You wanna talk about balance? According to Football Outsiders, they're one of two teams that rank top-10 in offense, defense and special teams. (More to come on the other team later...)
5. Green Bay Packers (8-4)
The loss in New York was troubling, but the Giants always have their number. What's more troubling is the (unthinkable) dearth of receiving options at Aaron Rodgers' disposal. I think they'll round into form by January, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
6. New York Giants (7-5)
Man, this team is tough to get a hold on. But I guess that's how they like it. New York is in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs––especially considering the Redskins' remaining schedule––but they'll find a way in. And once they're in...well, you know what they're capable of.
7. Atlanta Falcons (11-1)
Are we being too hard on the Falcons? Yeah, they're a fluky 11-1. But don't we usually commend teams that are capable of winning close games?
Nah. This team is massively overrated. Football Outsiders ranks them 16-13-13 in offense, defense and special teams. That's simply not good enough for a conference leader.
8. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
The Seahawks continue to pass the eye test, but it turns out the numbers love them too. Football Outsiders rates them the third-best team in football (by a pretty wide margin), and they're the only team who ranks top-five in offense, defense and special teams. They finally got a signature road win against Chicago, and if Russell Wilson doesn't hit a wall, they're a legitimate contender.
9. Chicago Bears (8-4)
The loss vs. Seattle last weekend––their third in four weeks––tied them back up with the Packers atop the NFC North. But they still get to host Green Bay in Week 15, ostensibly putting their fate in their own hands. They need Charles Tillman to play better; he's been getting picked on the past few weeks. Methinks the new baby is keeping him up late at night. (Seriously, though).
10. Baltimore Ravens (9-3)
Like the Falcons, Baltimore has been playing with fire all season. It finally caught up with them against the Charlie Batch-led Steelers, and it could continue this week in Washington. Want a very un-Raven stat? Football Outsiders ranks them the 25th-best run defense in the league. Or to put it more bluntly, the eighth-worst run defense in the league. Yikes.
11. Washington Redskins (6-6)
Then I saw his face. Now I'm a 3-leiver! Robert Griffin continues to improve by the week, which is scary since he hardly looked bad to begin with. Football Outsiders ranks him the fifth-best QB in the league––really fourth, since Colin Kaepernick is barely eligible. We'll learn even more about Griffin against the Ravens this weekend.
12. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
The good news: Andrew Luck is turning heads for all the right reasons. Football Outsiders ranks him the seventh-best QB this season. The bad news: The rest of the team is turning heads for all the wrong reasons.
Football Outsiders ranks them 27th in overall efficiency. That's below the Cardinals and the Jets. 8-4 be damned; this team needs to improve drastically if it wants to be taken seriously.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
The news of Ben Roethlisberger's impending return couldn't have come faster. The corpse of Charlie Batch did an admirable job leading them over Baltimore, but that situation wasn't tenable long term. Pittsburgh's D stepped up big in Roethlisberger's absence, too.
If they can keep doing that while Ben is in uniform, the Steelers could sneak up on people.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)
At least the offense is for real. Tampa's historically bad pass defense has been getting torched all season and could be enough to keep them out of the playoffs. After two straight losses, the Bucs get a welcome respite when they welcome Nick Foles and the Eagles this week.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
Is this the sneaky-good team of 2012? Cincy has been on fire as of late, winning four consecutive games. Granted, the past three were against every AFC West team not from Denver––it's still impressive. Football Outsiders says they're the ninth-best team in football.
16. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
Fun fact: Since September 23rd, the Cowboys haven't beaten a single team with more than four wins. There's some serious fluke potential with this team, whom Football Outsiders ranks 19th in the NFL. Sunday's game with the Bengals is a giant litmus test.
17. St. Louis Rams (5-6-1)
New mantra for the Rams: Play each game like it's against the 49ers. The plucky bunch from St. Louis has played 10 grueling quarters against San Francisco but haven't impressed much outside of those games. Heck, they lost by 14, at home, to the Jets three weeks ago! Playoff hopes are gone if they lose in Buffalo this weekend.
18. Buffalo Bills (5-7)
Like the Rams, they can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye if they lose this week. Depending on how Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and New York fare, they might have to kiss them goodbye anyway. The Bills are the epitome of average, a shame since so many people thought highly of them before the season. Maybe they can turn it around during the season's final quarter?
19. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
They had two weaknesses entering the season: pass defense and pass offense. Unfortunately, both units have been just as bad as advertised. Christian Ponder is the anti-Robert Griffin; he inspires less confidence with every (poor) passing game. Adrian Peterson is from another planet, but he can only take a team so far.
It's over in Minnesota if they lose to the Bears this week.
20. Miami Dolphins (5-7)
Miami's front seven is one of the best-kept secrets in all of football. In addition to ranking third against the run, they also provide pressure in waves throughout the game. Tannehill has had some bumps, but unlike some other rookie QBs (*cough* Nick Foles), he's done enough to warrant a second chance in 2013.
21. New Orleans Saints (5-7)
Okay. Let me start by saying this: I'm not actually a believer in the Saints.
But I am a believer in their Week 14 chances.
The Saints play the Giants this week in New York––a field Eli Manning and Co. inexplicably struggle on. And while their season may appear all-but-over, a win actually puts the Saints squarely back in the playoff picture. Hell, it'd put them one game behind the Giants––and they'd have the tiebreaker.
This team is unspeakably frustrating, but I've never learned to bet against Drew Brees. Especially when he's playing the regular-season version of Eli Manning.
Don't be surprised if the Saints win this one.
22. Cleveland Browns (4-8)
Are the Browns so underrated that they've become overrated? I get that they're a few breaks away from being 6-6; really, I do. But this is still a pretty crummy team. The defense shows up every week, but the offense is a crapshoot––they rank 28th in DVOA efficiency. Underrated teams don't do that.
23. New York Jets (5-7)
The Jets get more than enough airtime on SportsCenter every morning. I don't want to add to that problem, so I'll make this short and sweet: They need to get a new quarterback. Done.
24. Detroit Lions (4-8)
Why is everyone so surprised that the Lions are bad this year? They had one good season! This is the Lions we're talking about: One of the most dysfunctional organizations in the history of sports. And the whole team spent the offseason getting arrested! Is it really that shocking that they'll be picking top-10?
25. San Diego Chargers (4-8)
You can breathe now, Chargers fans. It's over. Norv Turner will reportedly be fired at season's end, marking the conclusion of a contentious six-year run in San Diego. One can only speculate about what the future holds, but for now, Chargers fans are making the folks in Philadelphia very jealous.
26. Arizona Cardinals (4-8)
The Cardinals have––by far––the worst offense in the NFL. In a league where Brady Quinn starts at quarterback, that's saying a lot. But let's give due credit to their impressive defense. Football Outsiders ranks them the fourth-best unit in the league, second best against the pass. It's hardly consolation for a season gone awry, but at least it's something to build around in the future.
27. Carolina Panthers (3-9)
Like the Buffalo Bills, Carolina was a trendy sleeper pick that didn't pan out in 2012. But the record isn't perfectly indicative of how they've played.
The Panthers have gone 0-7 in games decided by a six points or less this season. That says a lot about how bad Ron Rivera has been in late-game situations, sure, but it also says a lot about how unlucky they've been.
Don't believe me? Check out this number that Aaron Schatz––founder of Football Outsiders––delivered on the B.S. Report podcast this week:
From 1990 to 2011, there were seven different teams that were 0-5, or worse, in less-than-a-touchdown games through Week 13. In the last four weeks, those same teams were 8-2 in less-than-a-touchdown games.
Look for them to keep it close and, for once, pull out an upset victory over Atlanta this weekend.
28. Tennessee Titans (4-8)
Earlier in this piece I wrote about how bad the Colts have secretly been this season. The Titans haven't been much better, but they've got a real chance at pulling the upset this weekend.
Their overall body of work hasn't been impressive, but Tennessee is capable of stringing together four good quarters. They beat Pittsburgh earlier this year on Thursday Night Football, and also beat the Bills in Buffalo.
Most notably, they demolished the Dolphins 37-3 in Miami, proving how good they can be if the defense shows up to play.
I'm not saying I'd bet on it, but I wouldn't bat an eyelash if the Titans beat the Colts in Indy.
29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-9)
Where does Philly go from here? It seems like the whole staff of assistants won't be returning, and one can only assume Andy Reid will follow suit. The most pressing issue of the offseason will be quarterback. Mike Vick looks to be out the door, but is Nick Foles really the future? This guy says no. Look for them to draft a signal-caller with their top-five pick in April
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
One of the goals of Jacksonville's season was "Find out what we have in Blaine Gabbert." It wasn't pretty, but the Jaguars found out, unequivocally, that in Blaine Gabbert they have nothing but a 6'4'' statue with long blonde hair. Chad Henne has given the offense some life, but his destiny is to be a top-tier backup, not a starter.
They need to find a real quarterback, and they need to do it soon.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (2-10)
I'll man up and issue a mea culpa where it's due: The Chiefs were my sleeper going into 2012. It hasn't gone exactly to plan, but I genuinely believe there are some pieces to build around here. The (hopeful) debridement of Romeo Crennel, and the (hopeful) introduction of a new quarterback could make them competitive in 2013. Alex Smith or Michael Vick, perhaps?
32. Oakland Raiders (3-9)
What can you even say that hasn't been said about the Oakland Raiders? This is an organization in disarray. I don't care if the passing game has shown scintillas of promise. This team needs to be gutted from the core and rebuilt. This time, hopefully, by someone who knows what they're doing.
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