We're quickly approaching the three-quarter mark of the 2013 NFL season, and finally there's a definitive answer as to who the best team in the league is. Right?
In a week that saw the NFL's only unbeaten team lose, big changes are expected in the top 10. Preseason darlings like the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens move down, while surprise teams in Arizona, Philadelphia and Oakland trend upward.
We know who the NFL's best team is. Do you?
This Week's Rank: 32
Last Week's Rank: 31
Two straight wins were not meant to be for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team limped to a crushing loss to the Arizona Cardinals as the more talented team exposed the Jags' weaknesses on offense and defense.
However, I still maintain that the right people are in place for the rebuilding process in Jacksonville. The Jaguars desperately need a franchise quarterback and for Luke Joeckel (LT) and Justin Blackmon (WR) to return, but there are solid pieces in place for the future.
The Jaguars got over the hump with a win in Week 10. The rest of this season is about self-evaluation and player development no matter the outcome.
This Week's Rank: 31
Last Week's Rank: 30
Another week, another Minnesota Vikings loss. It's tough to believe that this team made the playoffs just last season. Those days are long gone, though, and the Vikings are seriously struggling.
As the losses pile up, the rest of the 2013 season is about saving jobs. Head coach Leslie Frazier must convince ownership that he's the right guy to rebuild this roster and develop the young talent. Last season's playoff berth may be enough to earn him another year, but that's doubtful. Frazier, as well as general manager Rick Spielman, will be held accountable for the crashing of this team.
This Week's Rank: 30
Last Week's Rank: 29
The 2013 Atlanta Falcons are proof that talent does not equal wins.
Armed with an upper-level quarterback in Matt Ryan and elite targets like Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, you'd think this Falcons team could play to a shootout and at least keep games close. After all, Atlanta won 13 games and was the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season. But that's been far from reality, as the team has struggled to stay healthy and has seen its misses in free agency exposed.
Two wins in 11 weeks is embarrassing, but not enough for Mike Smith's job to be in jeopardy. Smith is going through a rough patch, but he has earned the right to try to bring the team back next season. Staying the course and building consistency in management and coaching will be the best move for owner Arthur Blank.
This Week's Rank: 29
Last Week's Rank: 32
Two weeks, two wins for the unexpectedly loose Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Playing with house money has been good for head coach Greg Schiano, who suddenly likes going for it on fourth down and faking special teams plays.
Playing with less urgency can be a great way to change things up, and that's worked for Tampa. Mike Glennon and Bobby Rainey were a breath of fresh air in Week 11, showing that there is some young talent on offense to spark what's been a dreadful season-long performance on that side of the ball. Moving forward, we'll learn a lot about Glennon, Rainey and the rest of this team.
Whether Schiano can survive this poor season or not remains to be seen—especially with many thinking in the preseason that this roster had playoff talent. But judging by his team's play these past two weeks, Schiano is at least capable of learning on the job.
This Week's Rank: 28
Last Week's Rank: 28
There is so much wrong with this football team. To kick things off, they've been so inconsistent over the course of the year. When they play well early, it generally results in a bad second half. In Week 11, they limped to a slow start before catching fire in the second half and making things interesting late.
That inability to play a solid four quarters is what's kept this team from realizing its potential. Yes, there are big holes on the offensive line and on defense, but the skill players on offense and the pass rush on defense are good enough to overcome some weak links. But even superstars like quarterback Robert Griffin III have been a problem.
In RGIII's case, you could argue he is the biggest problem, as his play has varied from brutally bad to exceptionally good—and sometimes from series to series.
Getting this team in sync is huge. Last year, it started 3-6 before making a run and winning a playoff berth. The Redskins have the talent to do that again, but big changes must happen in their consistency and discipline on the field.
This Week's Rank: 27
Last Week's Rank: 27
The Houston Texans made the playoffs following each of the last two seasons, winning a combined 22 games in the regular season. Those days are over.
The Texans we see on the field this year are a shadow of that past. The defense, which was so strong last season, has been a weak link against mediocre offenses. The Texans' own offense has been hot and cold, but questionable play-calling and game-planning are keeping the team from reaching its potential when it has the ball.
Gary Kubiak's eighth season in Houston looks to be his last.
This Week's Rank: 26
Last Week's Rank: 23
Thursday night feels like a lifetime ago thanks to the excitement on the field Sunday. Fans of the Tennessee Titans would like to forget it too.
A bright start to the season has been marred by an injury to quarterback Jake Locker and struggles on defense to find consistent pressure. There have been bright spots—like Alterraun Verner and good play from Chris Johnson here and there—but otherwise, the inconsistency has led to disappointment.
At 4-6, the team isn't out of the playoff hunt, but judging by its play on the field, it would be an unlikely hot streak to end the season.
This Week's Rank: 25
Last Week's Rank: 22
Fans in Cleveland comforted themselves with the statistic that they had only lost one game when Brandon Weeden didn't start at quarterback.
Make that two games.
A hot start in Week 11 had fan confidence high, but a complete meltdown on offense and special teams allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to run away with a win. A previously tough defense allowed Andy Dalton to get comfortable after early mistakes, and on offense, the Browns allowed the Bengals to score two defensive touchdowns (a blocked punt and a fumble recovery for a touchdown).
All in all, this was a forgettable day for the Browns.
Bad teams cannot afford to let the opposition score twice on defense and block two punts. Week 11 is a reminder that while the Browns are playing better than expected, they still have a ways to go.
This Week's Rank: 24
Last Week's Rank: 26
The Buffalo Bills rose to the challenge and put an absolute smackdown on the rival New York Jets in Week 11. That's a statement win for Doug Marrone's young team, especially when you consider it was without Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods. Other playmakers stepped up and performed.
Quarterback EJ Manuel played well against a very tough New York front seven, and when appropriate, he challenged a bad secondary by hitting fellow rookie Marquise Goodwin deep. Without his top two targets, Manuel improvised and found ways to make a play. Add in free safety Jairus Byrd's two interceptions, and it quickly become a blowout in Orchard Park.
The Bills move up in the rankings, and they're putting folks on notice that Manuel and the offense are dangerous.
This Week's Rank: 23
Last Week's Rank: 25
We've had the Matt Flynn era in the preseason. The Tyler Wilson draft hype. The Terrelle Pryor early-season hype. And now we're ready for the Matt McGloin late-season hype. Maybe this one is for real?
McGloin, who went undrafted out of Penn State this year, played admirably against the Houston Texans defense, but credit also goes to the run game and an Oakland defense that came up big. Lamarr Houston, Charles Woodson and Nick Roach all turned in monster games to shut down the Texans offense and allow McGloin to operate in plus territory and with a comfortable lead for much of the game.
McGloin may or may not be the future here—one game won't tell us if he is or isn't—but for at least one more week, the Raiders can feel damn good about the way this season is turning out for head coach Dennis Allen.
This Week's Rank: 22
Last Week's Rank: 24
Winners of four games in the last six weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers are starting to find their rhythm. But is it too late?
Surprisingly, it's not. The team sits at 4-6 and three wins back from the Cincinnati Bengals in the division, but it is very much alive for the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Only five AFC teams have a winning record after Week 11, so anything is possible for the suddenly hot Steelers.
Mike Tomlin looked like a scapegoat early in the year when his team struggled to put together consistent efforts, but since their loss to the Minnesota Vikings in London, the Steelers have clicked. Ben Roethlisberger is playing efficient, smart football, and while the team isn't back to its Steel Curtain days on defense, it's making big plays when needed.
This Week's Rank: 21
Last Week's Rank: 17
We've been here before with the San Diego Chargers. Too often, really. A talented team struggles to put together a four-quarter effort and loses a winnable game? That's been the Chargers' theme the last few seasons. A new general manager and new head coach haven't been able to completely exorcise those demons. At least not yet.
The Chargers have the talent to be a playoff team, but they make too many mistakes to be considered contenders. While talent issues on the offensive line and in the secondary are big obstacles, the passing game and pass rush are good enough to hide those flaws. Good teams scheme around their weak links, but the Chargers aren't there yet.
With a tough divisional schedule ahead of them, it's looking like a sub-.500 season in San Diego.
This Week's Rank: 20
Last Week's Rank: 21
With three starting offensive linemen out in Week 11—Mike Pouncey, Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito—the Miami Dolphins offense was expected to struggle. Taking into account the team's difficulties protecting Ryan Tannehill when the line was intact, it seemed like the San Diego Chargers would tee off on Tannehill Sunday afternoon.
They did. Miami allowed four sacks, but Tannehill and the offense played well against a San Diego front seven that's very talented. Two touchdowns on the day—one a Charles Clay catch, the other a Daniel Thomas run—might not seem like much to gush about, but the scores were enough to keep Miami ahead of San Diego at the end of four quarters.
The Dolphins have a ton of obstacles in their way—both on and off the field—but a win on Sunday will quiet some critics. At least for another week.
This Week's Rank: 19
Last Week's Rank: 19
St. Louis went on bye with a 4-6 record and plenty of possibilities for a playoff spot. If the Rams can continue to play like they did in Week 10—a 38-8 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts—then they cannot be counted out of a potential wild-card race. But in a very tough NFC, they should aim for an 8-8 finish and momentum to close the season.
Jeff Fisher's teams tend to get hot later in the year, but without Sam Bradford, it will be tough to rip off the five or six wins needed to become playoff eligible—especially when you consider the schedule the Rams face within the NFC West, where every other team is above .500.
The 2013 Rams have proven they have talent on both sides of the ball, but the remainder of this season is likely to be more about development and self-evaluation than a playoff push.
This Week's Rank: 18
Last Week's Rank: 20
After an 0-6 start, the New York Giants have won four straight games. The difference? In the last four games, the most points they've allowed is 20, to the Oakland Raiders in a four-point victory. The defense has tightened up considerably, allowing just 11.8 points per game during the winning streak.
The defense isn't the only improvement. Quarterback Eli Manning threw 15 interceptions in the team's first six losses; he's thrown just two in the last four games. Manning wasn't great against Oakland—far from it—but did enough to get the offense in position to win. That's a stark difference from what we saw to start the season.
The Giants are hot, and as we've seen before, this is when they are most dangerous.
This Week's Rank: 17
Last Week's Rank: 16
Losing to a top-10-ranked Chicago Bears team normally wouldn't drop the Baltimore Ravens a spot in the rankings. Losing to the Josh McCown-quarterbacked Bears is a different story.
The Ravens looked in control of the weather-delayed game at points, even with the field looking like a backyard football game after rain and wind battered the Chicago area. Ray Rice was actually highlighted after the teams took a two-hour break, going over 100 yards and carrying the team while quarterback Joe Flacco struggled.
Flacco's struggles—in good and bad weather—are becoming an issue. A quarterback making over $120 million through the next six seasons has to play better than this. For the Ravens to post a late-season comeback and make a run at a wild-card berth, Flacco has to find his 2012 playoff mojo.
This Week's Rank: 16
Last Week's Rank: 13
A big drop in the rankings this week for the inconsistent New York Jets, but that's expected when you lose to the Buffalo Bills by 23 points. And as has become routine for Rex Ryan's ballclub, the Jets lost after winning their previous contest. Through their first 10 games, the team has yet to win or lose in consecutive weeks.
The good news is that means next week should be a win against the Baltimore Ravens. If that happens, the Jets will push back above .500 and secure a winning record with five games to go. That's crucial in the AFC, where only five teams have a winning record at this point in the season.
For the Jets to become a playoff contender and not just a pretender, Geno Smith has to be better than the four turnovers he committed on Sunday. We've seen good and bad Geno at times this season, but with the season on the line, he cannot afford to lapse back into the inconsistencies we saw in Week 11.
This Week's Rank: 15
Last Week's Rank: 15
The Cowboys don't move this week, as is customary for teams on a bye. But with the division race heating up in the NFC East, they have to come out swinging.
Having faith in this team to perform up to its potential is tough, especially given the disappointments in previous seasons. And yet this team has a tougher, grittier feel to it. The play of unknowns like George Selvie and rookies Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams has been huge for a roster that too often lacked drive in previous seasons.
It won't be an easy walk to the playoffs for Dallas, but it is the most talented team in the NFC East.
This Week's Rank: 14
Last Week's Rank: 18
You may have missed it given all the excitement surrounding the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and other teams, but the Arizona Cardinals are 6-4. This is not a joke.
It took a bit, but head coach Bruce Arians has the team playing well on both sides of the ball. The return of inside linebacker Daryl Washington has been huge, as has the development of Tyrann Mathieu and the acclimation of John Abraham after a late signing with the team. As the defense improves, the offense is becoming less tense and more aggressive.
The offense has functioned well in part thanks to a renewed run game. Andre Ellington, a rookie from Clemson, deserves credit there, but so does the offensive line. Not many people will point to the Cardinals line as a positive, but as of late, it's been doing a bang-up job.
Here we are after Week 11, and the Cardinals look like a playoff team.
This Week's Rank: 13
Last Week's Rank: 12
It might be the most obvious statement ever, but it has to be noted that without Aaron Rodgers, this team has no chance at making the playoffs. Week 11 proved that much, as the Packers dropped a game to the 3-6 New York Giants. With the Minnesota Vikings up next on the schedule, Green Bay may be able to sneak out a win without No. 12, but that's no guarantee.
Backup Scott Tolzien played well in relief minus three interceptions, but those turnovers were the difference in a two-score game. And without Rodgers in the backfield, the Green Bay run game never got going. By holding Eddie Lacy to just 27 yards, the Giants were able to dictate the tempo and game plan.
At 5-5, the Packers are at a crossroads. From here, they could get hot, win six straight and steal the NFC North. Or they could limp to the finish line and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
This Week's Rank: 12
Last Week's Rank: 14
The Dallas Cowboys may have more raw talent on their roster, but the Philadelphia Eagles are getting more production from lesser-known players. That's the difference between the two NFC East rivals and could very well be the difference between making the playoffs and staying home (again).
It's obvious that the Eagles are the best team in the division after 11 weeks—and they've achieved that without an overwhelming talent difference. Their biggest weapon the last three weeks has been Riley Cooper, and on defense, they've relied on pass-rusher Connor Barwin, who many claimed the team overpaid in free agency.
Tip your hats to Chip Kelly; he's done one hell of a job bringing this team back from the basement after a 1-3 start to the season.
Kelly's ability to bounce back from losses—something he rarely experienced at Oregon—solidifies his status as a legit NFL head coach and a man with a clear-cut vision for this team. And if you're keeping track at home, Nick Foles still hasn't thrown an interception this season.
This Week's Rank: 11
Last Week's Rank: 7
The Detroit Lions scored 27 points in the second quarter and still managed to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's not the sign of a team ready to threaten the rest of the NFC.
The Lions showed their potential by ripping off a crazy 27 points with Matthew Stafford going off, hitting on 16 of 30 passes in the first half and getting two touchdowns to Calvin Johnson. But the second half was a different story, as Stafford completed just three passes and failed to get the ball to his playmaker in a close game.
The second-half collapse by Detroit allowed the Steelers to stage a comeback and eventually pull ahead for a 10-point win. Allowing a team with three wins headed into the week to play this well is a concern, especially when you look at the teams the Lions would face in the playoffs.
For another week, the NFC North is up for grabs, but the road is still paved for Detroit to walk into the postseason if it can get its act together.
This Week's Rank: 10
Last Week's Rank: 11
The Chicago Bears were not supposed to win with Josh McCown at quarterback. They definitely weren't supposed to beat a well-rounded team like the Baltimore Ravens. But even with a two-hour weather delay and a field made of mud and divots, the Bears won.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery continued his ascent, showing that the Bears made the right call by snagging the South Carolina wide receiver in the second round of the 2012 draft. Jeffery, paired with Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, gives the Bears a big wide receiver corps that few defenses can match up with. For McCown, that means throwing the ball up and letting his guys make a play on it.
For the Bears to win the NFC North, they'll need more big plays from unlikely sources. They got those in Week 11 from David Bass and Zachary Bowman. In Chicago, it's all about the next man up.
This Week's Rank: 9
Last Week's Rank: 9
The San Francisco 49ers have lost two straight games. Normally, that would mean a move outside the top 10. But look closer and you see a team that lost to the No. 3-ranked Saints by three points and to the No. 8-ranked Panthers by one point. Two losses in two weeks, but by a combined four points against two of the better offenses in the NFL.
The 49ers aren't playing their best football; that much cannot be argued. The offense has been stalled by Colin Kaepernick's timid play and force-feeding to Anquan Boldin in the passing game. Even when Frank Gore gets going, too often the team turns away from him in the second half of close games. Where the 2012 49ers were closers, the 2013 49ers are not. That has to change if this team has playoff aspirations.
There is no shortage of talent, but rather, a shortage in terms of marrying the play-calling with the personnel. Until the 49ers become a run-first team again, they won't be a serious threat.
This Week's Rank: 8
Last Week's Rank: 10
Good teams find a way to adjust in-game and overcome issues and struggles. The Cincinnati Bengals did that in Week 11.
The Bengals trailed 13-0 after the first quarter, and it looked like we'd see more of the Andy Dalton struggles from a week ago. And then the second quarter started, and it all changed in a hurry. Two blocked punts, one returned for a touchdown. A Jason Campbell interception. Vontaze Burfict forcing a fumble and then returning it for a touchdown. That 13-0 Browns lead became 31-13 Cincinnati by halftime.
This is what the Bengals are capable of, but we don't always see this version of the team. Marvin Lewis' club has a clear path to an AFC North title, but we need to see more of the second-quarter Bengals and a lot less of the first-quarter team.
This Week's Rank: 7
Last Week's Rank: 6
Losing to the Carolina Panthers, no matter how controversial the ending, means the New England Patriots must move down this week. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the 7-3 Patriots are still a favorite to land the AFC's No. 2 seed. The Bengals (7-4) and Colts (7-3) are also in play for a first-round bye and a home game in the second round, but with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and a team that's clicking as the season wears on, New England would be most people's pick for a first-round bye.
The loss hurts, and the Patriots have flaws, but their 2013 season will be defined by how well they do in the playoffs, not by their Week 11 performance.
This Week's Rank: 6
Last Week's Rank: 8
You can question how the Panthers' Week 11 win over the New England Patriots ended—and many will—but do not question whether or not this team is for real. Their play over the last two weeks proves that they are a contender.
The Panthers won after safety Robert Lester intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone as time expired, but a flag thrown for defensive pass interference was picked up and waved off. No flag, no foul, ball game.
The Internet and sports shows will be ablaze with debates over the merits of the call, but people should pay attention to how well the Panthers played, too.
Carolina has taken down the San Francisco 49ers and Patriots in back-to-back weeks. That's astounding consider many were ready to call Cam Newton a bust 10 weeks ago.
Newton is not a bust, but an MVP candidate, and the Panthers are very much alive in the NFC.
This Week's Rank: 5
Last Week's Rank: 5
Andrew Luck is quickly reaching "don't bet against him" status. Luck's play in Week 11 against a very talented Tennessee Titans defense wasn't glamorous, but it was efficient, smart and productive. He didn't help your fantasy football team win, but the Colts overcame an early deficit for a 7-3 record and easy lead in the AFC South.
The Colts aren't the most talented football team in the league by far, but they overcome their holes and injuries as well as anyone else. Lose Reggie Wayne? T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener are ready to go. Struggles in the secondary? Robert Mathis puts up Defensive Player of the Year numbers as a pass-rusher.
The total depth chart talent won't blow anyone away, but the coaching and play mesh well enough on a weekly basis to make a clear-cut path to the division title.
This Week's Rank: 4
Last Week's Rank: 1
A great run ends as the Kansas City Chiefs suffer their first loss of the season. They didn't go down without a fight.
Traveling to Denver to take on the one-loss Broncos was expected to be a tough game. It became tougher once the game started, and it was obvious that the Denver offense was ready to eliminate the Chiefs pass rush. Without the great Kansas City defense making a stand, the game became about the offense. That's not ideal with the current roster, but the team managed to keep it closer than many expected.
There are concerns coming out of this one. Andy Reid's offense is not built to come from behind, and Alex Smith—other than a playoff game versus the Saints in 2011—hasn't been a late-game-heroics type of quarterback in his career.
The Chiefs are a run-first team that beats you with smart, efficient play and a dominant defense. When those two factors are taken away, they're a well-coached, disciplined team that can't move the ball.
Two weeks from now, they have a chance to get revenge and prove their critics wrong. At home in Kansas City, they can pay the Broncos back for handing them their first loss.
This Week's Rank: 3
Last Week's Rank: 3
Sean Payton is so well-known as a great head coach that we tend to overlook the job he's done with the 8-2 New Orleans Saints. Let's remember that in 2012, without Payton, this team won seven games and finished third in the NFC South. Bring Payton back, substitute Rob Ryan for Steve Spagnuolo and you have one of the NFL's best teams.
Payton has been excellent in managing this team and allowing his coordinators to do their jobs. Ryan has transformed the timid 4-3 defense he inherited into an aggressive, attacking 3-4 scheme almost overnight. Thanks to smart draft picks and bargain free-agent signings, the Saints defense is clicking. And on offense, New Orleans is as good as ever.
The No. 2 seed in the NFC will belong to the Saints as long as they can get past the Carolina Panthers in their two December matchups. And if they can beat the Seahawks in Seattle on December 2, they'll have a damn good chance at the top seed and invaluable home-field advantage.
This Week's Rank: 2
Last Week's Rank: 2
The NFL's first 10-win team of the 2013 season, the Seattle Seahawks are clearly the dominant team in the NFC—maybe in the NFL when you factor in their play at home. It's at home where this team is most dangerous, and Russell Wilson and Co. haven't lost a game there in the last two seasons.
Home-field advantage will be huge for the Seahawks, but the schedule is not kind. They still host the Saints, play in San Francisco and travel to New York to face the Giants before the season is over. If they win out, they're playing at home until the Super Bowl. But a loss to San Francisco or New Orleans changes the race entirely.
If the Seahawks can secure home field throughout the playoffs, there isn't a team in the league that could beat them.
This Week's Rank: 1
Last Week's Rank: 4
To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Denver Broncos did that in Week 11, taking down the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. Now they're back on top of the weekly power rankings for the second time this season.
It's not just that the 9-1 Broncos beat the Chiefs; it's how they did it. With a backup left tackle protecting an injured Peyton Manning, the offense rolled a formidable defense. The vaunted Kansas City pass rush was nowhere to be found all night as Manning carved up the secondary with quick strikes to Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.
What makes the Broncos great is that they take whatever you perceive as their weakness and cover it up better than anyone else. Manning's hobbled and has a backup left tackle in? They beat you with slants and quick-strike passes to soften the pass rush. It's their ability to scheme against your strengths that makes them an elite team. And that will make them very tough to beat in the AFC playoffs.