The NFL's Week 12 slate kicked off in impressive fashion with an NFC South battle between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football.
When it comes to power rankings, the Saints and Falcons are polar opposites. It showed on the field as Drew Brees and the Saints picked up their ninth win of the season, sending Atlanta back to the cellar with Jacksonville and friends.
Before things get all thrown out of whack with another weekend of unpredictable action, let's take a final gander at league hierarchy.
1. Denver Broncos (9-1)
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are back on top after a win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11.
The Broncos continue to have the NFL's best offense and an opportunistic defense that was able to silence Andy Reid's efficient offense.
Now Manning and the Broncos must duel Tom Brady and the New England Patriots before another matchup with the Chiefs. The road to keeping this rank is rough.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)
So much for that.
The Kansas City pass rush led by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston was neutralized in Week 11, as was an efficient offense.
The Chiefs continue to have a top pass defense, but it will be truly tested once more, this time by Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers in Week 12.
3. New Orleans Saints (9-2)
New Orleans beat up on Atlanta for the second time in 2013 on Thursday Night Football.
While it was closer than coach Sean Payton likely would have preferred, the Saints showed resiliency to fend off a pesky team featured way down on this list.
Given the short turnaround thanks to the greed of the league itself after a win over San Francisco a week earlier, it's hard to knock the Saints down a peg. They remain a strong Super Bowl contender.
4. Seattle Seahawks (10-1)
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have a bye in Week 12. Great news—receiver Percy Harvin and a hobbled offensive line will have plenty of time to rest before games against New Orleans and San Francisco.
Seattle sits on a six-game streak, but the last four have come against teams with four wins or fewer. We know Settle is legit, but the coming weeks will tell us how the team truly compares to the NFL's best.
5. Carolina Panthers (7-3)
Speaking of the NFL's best, the defense in Carolina and the cool play of quarterback Cam Newton have the Panthers riding high.
Carolina also rides a six-game streak with a game against the Miami Dolphins on the horizon.
Last week the Panthers knocked off New England in impressive fashion. One of the NFL's best defenses continues to make life easy on Newton and the offense.
6. New England Patriots (7-3)
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots ran into a brick wall in Week 11.
Under the national microscope of Monday Night Football, Brady and his offense once again looked shaky at best and could only muster 20 points.
That's understandable in the face of an elite defense on the road, but it does not bode well for the postseason where all defenses will play at a high level.
New England once again sits in the national spotlight this weekend as it gets Denver on Sunday Night Football.
7. Detroit Lions (6-4)
Detroit is a lucky team.
The Lions remained tied for the NFC North's best record despite going to Pittsburgh a week ago and dropping a winnable game.
Even better—now the Lions get a shot at lowly Tampa Bay in Week 12. A top-five pass defense led by Matthew Stafford is backed by a top-five rush defense. If only the team could put it all together each game.
8. Indianapolis Colts (7-3)
The last two weeks have been the perfect example of the 2013 Indianapolis Colts.
Week 10 was a 38-8 loss at the hands of 4-6 St. Louis. Week 11 was only a 30-27 win over 4-6 Tennessee.
Now Andrew Luck and the Colts have a tough challenge against 6-4 Arizona. We'll see if the team can at least play up to the competition.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
Week 12 is a bye for Cincinnati, not that the team needs it.
The Bengals are riding high after a 41-20 win over Cleveland to maintain its lengthy lead in the AFC North. The win broke a two-game losing streak—both of which came in overtime.
Cincinnati has plenty on its plate after the week off with games against San Diego, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)
Philadelphia is another team on a bye in Week 12.
It's also another team that does not need it.
Nick Foles is the answer at quarterback as the Eagles have won three straight by eight or more points and sit alone at the top of the NFC East.
Foles won't throw for anywhere near seven touchdowns per game, but he leads an attack not many can match at this point. Week 13 is a tough dance against Arizona.
11. San Francisco 49ers (6-4)
San Francisco has been exposed.
The 49ers are not necessarily contenders, at least not after two consecutive losses to quality teams in Carolina and New Orleans.
The streak makes sense—San Francisco lost to Indianapolis and Seattle earlier in the year as well. Things get much easier in Week 12 with a Monday Night Football duel with Washington. We think.
12. Chicago Bears (6-4)
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Chicago Bears will be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler in Week 12 against St. Louis:
While not a good thing, it's not really a bad thing, either. Backup Josh McCown has played just fine in relief this year.
Coach Marc Trestman and his offense are to blame (or thank), and the Bears continue to be a serious factor in the playoff hunt.
13. Green Bay Packers (5-5)
Bears said QB Jay Cutler and LB Lance Briggs will not play Sunday vs. Rams.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 18, 2013
Hey look, another NFC North team that will be without its star quarterback in Week 12 per Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Aaron Rodgers or not, the Packers also have a winnable matchup thanks to a date with Minnesota.
Regardless, Rodgers needs to return as soon as possible—the playoffs are fading fast in Green Bay.
14. Miami Dolphins (5-5)
Miami is another team that has been difficult to predict on a weekly basis.
The Dolphins have had their fair share of distractions this year, which makes it easy to understand a loss to Tampa Bay in Week 10, followed by a win over San Diego last week.
We'll see how resilient the Dolphins truly are in Week 12 with a game against Carolina on the slate. Ryan Tannehill remains the NFL's most-sacked quarterback at 41, so the combination does not seem favorable.
15. Arizona Cardinals (6-4)
McCarthy: Scott Tolzien will start this week.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) November 18, 2013
Arizona seems to be everyone's fast riser in the rankings right now, and why not?
After all, Bruce Arians' team has won three straight and features a defense that gives up just over 21 points per game.
The only knock on Arizona at this point is simple—the three wins have come against opposition with a combined win total of five. Week 12 against Indianapolis should help sort things out.
16. New York Giants (4-6)
Tom Coughlin's team is on its typical tear with its back against the wall.
New York has won four straight despite the continued poor play from Eli Manning and his 12 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.
The defense has continuously come through for the Giants. The unit ranks in the top half of the league against the pass and in the top five against the run. That will come in handy on Sunday against a reeling Dallas team.
17. Cleveland Browns (4-6)
Should Arizona be ranked higher?
It goes from bad to worse for Cleveland.
The Browns lost last week in Cincinnati by a large margin. Quarterback Jason Campbell was ineffective, there's no ground game to speak of, and the team even had two punts partially blocked.
Now Cleveland returns home for another physical AFC North date. This time the opponent is Pittsburgh, winner of two straight. Yikes.
18. New York Jets (5-5)
Early in the year, it was easy to credit rookie quarterback Geno Smith. He led the iffy New York Jets to a few wins despite a lack of talent around him.
Then he went out last week against Buffalo, posted an 8-of-23 line for 103 yards and an interception and was subsequently benched.
A game in Baltimore this week is sure to be a win, though. After all, the Jets have won every other game this season.
19. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
Week 11 was a bye, and a game against the New York Giants with NFC East implications Sunday will tell us much about how the team behaved during its time off.
After all, Dallas allowed over 600 yards of total offense and an NFL-record 40 first downs against New Orleans before the break.
As usual, Jerry Jones' team has the makings of a .500 club at best. A red-hot New York team is no joke.
20. Buffalo Bills (4-7)
Buffalo is the lowest team in the rankings on a bye in Week 12.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and the Bills got back on track last week with a win over the New York Jets.
That's great news for the Bills—Manuel finally looks comfortable after his return from injury and can use the bye to get further re-acclimated and help the Bills stay competitive the rest of the way.
21. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
So much for San Diego having the look of a sneaky playoff team.
Philip Rivers is in the middle of a solid year thanks to a shift in how things are done with new head coach Mike McCoy.
Alas, the Chargers have lost three straight. It's an unfortunate turn of events because things truly get worse in the coming weeks with games against Kansas City and Cincinnati on the schedule.
22. St. Louis Rams (4-6)
St. Louis was rewarded for its 38-8 win over Indianapolis in Week 10 with a bye last week.
The Kellen Clemens-led Rams surely needed the time off. St. Louis' next four games come against Chicago, San Francisco, Arizona and New Orleans.
St. Louis touts a strong pass defense with corners Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. The offense is paltry at best and needs work.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6)
Don't sleep on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Like the boys in blue from New York (not the police), the Steelers have put together a stellar stretch while most thought the season was over.
The Steelers sit at 4-6, have won two straight and sit in second place in the AFC North. Ben Roethlisberger leads a top-10 passing attack and is flanked by a defense that ranks similarly against the pass.
Doing both of those right in today's NFL will win a team plenty of games.
24. Baltimore Ravens (4-6)
Go ahead and sleep on Baltimore.
This is a team that also sits in second place in the AFC North at 4-6. The Ravens lost in overtime last week, and one of their four wins on the year has come against a team above .500.
Ray Rice finally decided to play well a week ago, but his three yards per carry is still nothing to sniff at. A stagnant offense can only be helped so much by an up-and-down defense.
25. Oakland Raiders (4-6)
Well look at that.
Matt McGloin got the start in place of Terrelle Pryor last week and threw three touchdowns in a victory over Houston. Beating Houston is a common theme in the NFL, but still—Oakland is competitive.
Of course, McGloin's emergence creates more questions than answers. It also moves the Raiders further away from a top prospect.
Would it have been better if McGloin had fallen on his face? He might against an elite pass defense versus Tennessee Sunday.
26. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
Speak of the devil.
Tennessee is the infamous team to give Jacksonville its first win this year. It would be riding a six-game losing streak were it not for a 28-21 victory over lowly St. Louis in Week 9.
Oh, and quarterback Jake Locker is out for the year.
A top-10 pass defense led by Alterraun Verner can only do so much.
27. Minnesota Vikings (2-8)
Minnesota had the unfavorable task of making the trip to Seattle last week and wound up with a 41-20 loss.
Now the Vikings get a chance to turn the ship around (get it?) on Sunday with a game against the reeling Green Bay Packers, who will be without Aaron Rodgers.
The Vikings are bad in most areas, but any given Sunday and all that stuff.
28. Houston Texans (2-8)
Losers of eight in a row, Houston can choose to be a respectable team with two games against one-win Jacksonville in the next three weeks.
The Texans will start quarterback Case Keenum in Week 12 per the team's Twitter account:
Which team wins?
Good to see coach Gary Kubiak has come to the realization his job is on the line, and Keenum is his only hope. A questionable benching of Keenum last week may have already sealed the deal at the end of the season, though.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8)
Kubiak: "Case will start Sunday. I have total confidence in him." #Texans— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) November 18, 2013
Tampa Bay is finally out of the cellar after starting the season with eight consecutive losses.
Now the Buccaneers have won two straight and have a game against Detroit on Sunday.
The season is very much over for the Buccaneers, but football enthusiasts will have plenty of fun when Calvin Johnson squares off with Darrelle Revis.
30. Washington Redskins (3-7)
Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins will be on Monday Night Football in Week 12 against San Francisco.
The Redskins have dropped two straight, and while RGIII has done much to improve in recent weeks, a defense that allows over 31 points per game is simply too much to overcome on a weekly basis.
31. Atlanta Falcons (2-9)
The Atlanta Falcons have now lost five in a row after a Thursday Night Football loss to New Orleans in Week 12.
It was a much better showing than in recent weeks for a team that has appeared to quit, but that is not really saying much at this point.
A high draft pick awaits the embattled franchise.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
A couple of weeks ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars scored their first win of the season.
On Sunday, the Jaguars have a legit shot at another win with a matchup against struggling Houston.
The Jaguars rank dead last in the NFL in both rushing offense and defense, but hey, it's a passing league, no?