NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 14?

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystDecember 7, 2015

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 14?

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    Hope is grasped tightly around the NFL in December. It comes in a few forms: Playoff hope is the most common, though there's also the hope that gainful employment as a coach won't end soon.

    The latter sort of hope leads to desperation, which we're perhaps seeing with the Cleveland Browns as head coach Mike Pettine continues his quarterback musical chairs. Playoff aspirations, however, are a driving force that can producing ballooning digits.

    Like the ones posted by Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who scored three touchdowns Sunday and finished with 118 receiving yards. Or the five touchdown passes thrown by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Respectively, they're trying to push a team into the playoffs and maintain a flawless record.

    But along the way there's plenty to derail those hopes and wild December dreams. Like, say, the 61-yard Hail Mary completed Thursday night or the nine extra-point attempts missed Sunday after only eight misfires throughout all of 2014.

    Hope is often either shattered—or kept on life support—this time of year. Let's use the weekly power rankings to sort through Week 13 and see which teams still have their share of hope.

    These rankings aren't the standings, and instead what follows is an analysis of how each team stacks up based on performance, regardless of what its record says. It's subjective, sure, but agreeing on everything (or anything) isn't fun, right?

    And remember, I probably hate your favorite team.

32. Cleveland Browns (2-10)

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    Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine punished his quarterback Johnny Manziel for lying to him about a boozy night during the team's bye week. Forcing Manziel to sit and be the third-string quarterback in Week 12 should have been enough. Manziel had a chance to get into that game when starter Josh McCown was injured, but instead his only contribution was helping Austin Davis warm up.

    Pettine made a decision on Manziel's punishment, and he stuck to it. But if part of a coach's job is to field the best-possible team each game, why was Manziel benched again in Week 13? Because Pettine is now being senselessly stubborn; that's why.

    Davis started Sunday, and he was predictably ineffective while leading an offense that scored three points. So now Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com is reporting Pettine could turn to Manziel for the final four games—presumably because trotting out an inferior quarterback twice was enough.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

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    If you'd like to grasp at something positive to take from the Jacksonville Jaguars' latest loss—their 33rd during Gus Bradley's three-year tenure as head coach—then gaze upon the five touchdown passes quarterback Blake Bortles threw.

    He's made legitimate progress during his second season. There are still moments when his accuracy wavers, resulting in interceptions. But Bortles compensates for that by being an effective deep passer, which has now led to five games with a per-attempt average over eight yards.

    Too often, though, Bortles' quality outings and throws are being undone by a defense that's now allowed 21 first-half points in two straight games.

30. Baltimore Ravens (4-8)

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    The Baltimore Ravens have been hopeless for quite some time after nearly every player worth watching broke or ripped something. Now the quarterback they're forced to start is the walking, breathing and throwing embodiment of what it means to be hopeless.

    Backup QB Matt Schaub has thrown a pick-six in six of his last nine starts, with another one coming Sunday during a loss to the Miami Dolphins that was decided by only two points. He's consistent at least, but it's the kind of consistency that should push Schaub out of the league this offseason.

29. St. Louis Rams (4-8)

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    The St. Louis Rams are doing more than just losing. They're losing while being completely and depressingly overmatched.

    During a five-game losing streak, the Rams have scored an average of 10.8 points per game. That lack of offense will always lead to disaster, but when it's coupled with a Swiss-cheese defense, the pain of losing throbs even more.

    Over the same stretch St. Louis has given up an average of 26.4 points each week. This is normally when I'd say head coach Jeff Fisher has about a month of employment left, but he's immune to being held accountable to his record.

28. Tennessee Titans (3-9)

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    The Jaguars and Tennessee Titans decided Sunday that defense is annoying and unnecessary. Scoring is so much more fun, so the two teams combined for six touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

    No seriously, that's a real thing that happened, and one of those touchdowns was historic.

    Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota scored on an 87-yard touchdown run. His scamper was special for a few reasons.

    • It was the third-longest run by a quarterback in league history, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith.
    • It was the longest run by any player this season, per ESPN Stats & Info.
    • And he became the only player to pass for 250-plus yards in a game with three touchdowns, while also running for 100-plus yards, per ESPN's Adam Caplan.

    There's a lot to be disappointed about in Tennessee this season, starting with the lack of a rushing offense and the overall defensive malaise. But Mariota provides plenty of promise for the future.

27. San Diego Chargers (3-9)

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    The San Diego Chargers have done a lot of losing in 2015, and there's plenty more to come. There are many fatal flaws with their roster, but because of injuries the worst one is an utter lack of downfield passing.

    The Chargers lost 17-3 to the Denver Broncos in Week 13 during a game when their top three wide receivers combined for 60 yards on four catches. Winning is nearly impossible with that sort of output from an offensive skill position.

26. Dallas Cowboys (4-8)

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    For about 59 minutes we weren't watching a football game Monday night. Instead Monday Night Football featured a primetime display of monkeys mashing typewriters, basically.

    No one really deserved to win between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys eventually did, mostly by default because DeSean Jackson tried to be a hero on his punt return in a tie game with just over one minute remaining. The comically predictable fumble that followed after he backed up nearly to his own end zone while reversing field led to the Cowboys' go-ahead touchdown.

    Jackson redeemed himself a short time later by tying the game again with his 28-yard touchdown reception. But that drive could have resulted in, you know, winning the game.

    Instead the game-winning honors went to Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, who sailed a 54-yarder though the uprights with just seconds remaining.

    The Cowboys took a game that seemed unwinnable for anyone involved, from the two teams to the innocent souls watching at home. The game's first touchdown didn't come until the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter, and in the first quarter both teams combined for 43 yards of offense. Oh, and at one point in the third quarter there were nearly as many combined punts (eight) as points scored (nine).

    But despite all that awfulness from two teams riding sewage-level quarterbacks, there's now an all-too real chance one of them will be hosting a playoff game. At 4-8 the Cowboys are just one game back of the NFC East division lead.

    Truly haunting stuff.

25. San Francisco 49ers (4-8)

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    In this space a week ago, I described why the word "pesky" will be associated with the San Francisco 49ers often as the 2015 regular season winds down. To review, despite their poor overall record and a laughable offense for much of the year (San Francisco has scored single-digit points in four games), the 49ers will give opposing head coaches cold sweats.

    It's hard to find a good explanation for the late-season phenomenon known as the feisty team. In this case, the 49ers have a solid defense, but that's been present all season. And now two of their four wins have come with notorious first-round draft bust Blaine Gabbert under center.

    There's a strange and mystical aura that follows the feisty team, and it appears in different ways. This week the 49ers' pesky powers propelled Gabbert to a 44-yard touchdown run that forced overtime against the Chicago Bears.

    Gabbert's career long run before Week 13? A 12-yarder, of course.

24. New Orleans Saints (4-8)

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    Calling the New Orleans Saints' pass defense leaky is insulting to your faulty faucet, which is a small hole with only a minor drip. The Saints' secondary is a sinkhole that grows larger each week.

    The Saints have now lost four straight games. The latest thud came in painful fashion against the Carolina Panthers when they allowed a touchdown with just over a minute remaining. During their losing streak, the Saints have given up 307.8 passing yards per game, and 15 touchdowns through the air, while recording just one interception.

    This wreaks of an absolute offseason gut job.

23. Atlanta Falcons (6-6)

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    It's hard to believe Matt Ryan just suddenly forgot how to be an effective NFL quarterback. But each week we're given new evidence that the Atlanta Falcons pivot is either regressing or not picking up new coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense well.

    The answer to this mystery isn't simple, and likely lies with both Ryan and Shanahan. Either way, the results have been gruesome as Ryan keeps making critical mistakes, and the Falcons keep plummeting further out of playoff contention.

    A quarterback who leads the league in red-zone interceptions didn't throw one Sunday. But he did chuck a game-ending pick against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sealing Atlanta's fifth straight loss.

    Ryan has now thrown an interception on 2.7 percent of his pass attempts—his highest single-season percentage since 2009.

22. Miami Dolphins (6-6)

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    The Miami Dolphins made a shocking discovering Sunday: Giving the ball to a power running back repeatedly can end in great things.

    For reasons only the Dolphins coach staff understands, their primary running back Lamar Miller has often been minimized this season. That mostly applies to the former coaching staff under Joe Philbin, but the current one led by Dan Campbell has been guilty of forgetting Miller exists, too.

    Overall the fourth-year runner was averaging 51.5 rushing yards per game on only 10.8 carries prior to Week 13. So then Sunday he turned 20 carries into 113 yards (5.6 YPC).

    Here's to hoping Miller has been freed for more than one week.

21. Detroit Lions (4-8)

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    Detroit Lions defensive end Devin Taylor's facemask penalty has been hotly debated since Thursday night, with many contrasting screenshots populating the Internet. Did he grab Aaron Rodgers' facemask and twist his head around?

    The answer, in my opinion, is yes. But the answer, in my opinion, is also that it doesn't matter.

    Or at least it shouldn't have mattered, because the Detroit Lions received the exact result they deserved on the game-ending play during their loss to the Green Bay Packers, which was perhaps the worst defended Hail Mary in football history.

    The Lions had two men defending the boundary on an untimed down. Green Bay was then given a numbers advantage in the end zone, allowing tight end Richard Rodgers to leap and make his miraculous grab.

    Now for the real question: Has anyone found Calvin Johnson yet?

20. Oakland Raiders

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    Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had logged six interception-free games prior to Week 13. He had also recorded only one multiple-interception game while throwing just six picks total over 378 pass attempts.

    So his fourth-quarter implosion Sunday was out of character and likely a blip of ugliness during an otherwise quality sophomore season. But it happened, with Carr throwing three interceptions during the final quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs. One was a pick-six, and the other two were converted into seven points almost immediately.

    The end result was Kansas City's 20-point fourth-quarter surge, along with the Raiders' fourth loss in their last five games. Any playoff hopes now require prayer.

19. Chicago Bears (5-7)

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    Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was woeful Sunday against the 49ers, posting a season-low passer rating of 64.2. He also threw a pick-six in a game decided by six points.

    But Cutler's wonky crosshairs could have been erased. He wasn't at this best, so the Bears' rushing offense and special teams did the heavy lifting to put kicker Robbie Gould into position for what should have been a gimmie 36-yard field goal with the game tied and two seconds left. Gould then yanked his kick to the left for both his second miss of the day and his second two-miss game this season.

    The Bears had lost only one game since their Week 7 bye, and they were clinging to a playoff mirage. Now that's fading fast.

18. Washington Redskins (5-7)

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    I already took a deep dive into the abomination that was Monday Night Football, a game that had excitement in the final two minutes, but for the sake of our health and well being we should all forget it now.

    Jump back to the Cowboys slide if you hate yourself and want to relive that misery. I'll add just one final depressing fact here regarding the Washington Redskins and their contribution to the stench.

    The Cowboys generously handed over quality field position after three fumbles, two of which occurred in their own territory. The Redskins scored three points off those turnovers. Three.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

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    The Philadelphia Eagles jump way up in these rankings because they handed the New England Patriots their first loss at home this season, even after dropping three straight games heading into Week 13.

    That certainly counts for something, though I'm not quite sure what yet.

    Yes, the Eagles scored five touchdowns on a Patriots team that had been allowing 19.3 points per game. But their offense was only responsible for two of those touchdowns, as two others came on special teams plays, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw a pick-six. 

    Meanwhile, Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford competed only 58.3 percent of his pass attempts, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews was his leading pass-catcher with three catches for 36 yards.

    The Patriots lost this game because of their own mistakes more than the Eagles won it.

16. Houston Texans (6-6)

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    The Houston Texans had won four straight games prior to Week 13, and they did it by wielding a powerful defensive hammer. Over that stretch they vaulted into playoff contention by allowing only 35 points.

    So why did such a dominant unit then give up 30 points during a loss Sunday to the Buffalo Bills? Well, mostly because stopping the run suddenly became an impossible dream.

    The Texans run defense was solid—though less than spectacular—before Week 13, allowing an average of 107.5 yards per game. They tumbled well below that adequate mark against the Bills and were torched for 187 rushing yards.

    What's especially troubling is that 41 of those yards came from running back Mike Gillislee. It's the same Mike Gillislee the Bills was promoted from the practice squad this week and had 21 career rushing yards before 2015.

15. New York Giants (5-7)

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    The New York Giants scored 20 points in the second quarter Sunday, which is a fine outburst that led to a 10-point first-half lead. The problem, though, was scoring in any other quarter, especially the fourth one.

    The Giants managed to lose another game in excruciating fashion, this time to the Jets, their New York rivals. The pain train began to chug when quarterback Eli Manning threw a fourth-quarter interception from the Jets' 4-yard line.

    Manning's red-zone pick stung enough in a game that was decided in overtime by three points. But there was still a chance for redemption during the fifth quarter. Giants kicker Josh Brown had to hit a 48-yard field goal to prolong the overtime period. But of course he whiffed for his first miss all season after converting successfully on 10 other attempts from 40-plus yards.

    Of the Giants' seven losses this season, four have come by three points or less.

14. Buffalo Bills (6-6)

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    Whenever the Buffalo Bills target wide receiver Sammy Watkins even somewhat consistently in any game, we're always left to wonder why they drift away from throwing those deep bullets.

    After his 109 yards in a win Sunday on only three receptions (including two 53-yard catches), Watkins is averaging 21.2 yards per grab during the five games since Buffalo's Week 8 bye. His average has remained astronomical even with two games during a stretch when he totaled a combined 53 yards.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6)

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have just sort of hovered for much of the season, never getting too high or too low. I suppose that's the very definition of sporting a .500 record, but it feels like Tampa Bay has still accomplished something.

    There were several points when the Bucs' season could have gone spinning into oblivion, especially with a rookie quarterback at the helm.

    Jameis Winston threw four interceptions back in Week 4 against the Carolina Panthers. At the time the Bucs were 1-3 and falling. But they rebounded with a win and then were given another gut shot after blowing a 24-point lead to the Washington Redskins in Week 7.

    Since then the Buccaneers have won four of their last six games, all while a young team matures quickly.

12. Indianapolis Colts (6-6)

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    Eventually Matt Hasselbeck's birth certificate was going to catch up to him, and that inevitability came Sunday night. Hasselbeck was slow-footed while navigating the pocket against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was sacked twice, threw two interceptions and had a per-attempt average of only 6.5 yards.

    The Colts offense finished with only 240 yards against Pittsburgh's 21st-ranked defense. They're still holding onto a playoff spot, but it's only because the AFC South is a bad practical joke.

11. New York Jets (7-5)

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    New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall is more than consistent. He's consistent with precision.

    The 31-year-old recorded 131 receiving yards for the second straight week. And for the fifth straight game, he caught at least one touchdown pass, with his scoring grab against the Giants forcing overtime during an eventual win. He's now one of only five wide receivers who have scored double-digit touchdowns.

    Marshall's height and leaping ability have always made him an imposing red-zone presence—a quality the Jets desperately need. As Brian Costello of the New York Post noted, he's the first Jets wide receiver to catch 10 touchdown passes in a season since Santana Moss in 2003.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)

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    Unless your name is Richard Sherman, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown just might be uncoverable.

    Brown has played 12 games this season, and seven of them have ended with 100-plus receiving yards. He caught eight passes for 118 yards Sunday, with most of that damage coming while matched up against Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis.

    Davis came into Week 13 with a passer rating in coverage of 80.5, per Pro Football Focus. So Brown wasn't torching some slouch, especially when you recall that in 2014 Davis ranked second while allowing a reception only once every 15.5 snaps in coverage, also according to PFF.

    To the surprise of no one, Brown is a different receiver when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. He's averaged 127.8 yards per game since Roethlisberger returned in Week 8.

9. Minnesota Vikings (8-4)

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    The Minnesota Vikings were playing in what was supposed to be one of Week 13's heavyweight matchups. They were hosting the Seattle Seahawks—a hard-charging team suddenly rounding into form.

    How would the rising young Vikings respond to a few power punches from the Seahawks defense? In a word: poorly.

    The Vikings offense mustered only three yards in the first quarter. That was an early sign of what was to come, as running back Adrian Peterson was greeted with swarming bodies on every carry while he finished with 18 rushing yards. Peterson is only one game removed from averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and he's already logged six 100-plus-yard rushing games in 2015.

    The Vikings are indeed a promising team with plenty of young talent set to blossom. But between Sunday's 38-7 pounding and a similar flameout against the Green Bay Packers in Week 11, they've now dropped two recent games to top-tier teams when there was a chance to make a statement.

8. Green Bay Packers (8-4)

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    Maybe quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 61-yard Hail Mary during an untimed down to beat the Detroit Lions Thursday night will provide only a brief break from the Green Bay Packers' death spiral. They needed a miracle heave to avoid losing for a second straight week and dropping five of their last six games.

    Or maybe the Packers offense will be shaken from its slumber, and we already saw that Thursday when Rodgers led a 20-point comeback.

    We'll see which narrative is true in the coming weeks. For now, though, a praying toss with time having expired has given Green Bay the lead in its division, with one game still left against the Minnesota Vikings.

7. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)

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    How do I know the Seattle Seahawks are back, besides, you know, the winning? Mostly by watching quarterback Russell Wilson create magic.

    A passer known for harnessing and controlling chaos has now posted a passer rating of 138.0 or higher in three straight games, all of which have ended in Seahawks wins. He's also thrown for 879 yards during those games while completing 76.7 percent of his throws at a whopping 10.2 yards per attempt.

    While pushed by Wilson's brilliance, the Seahawks have scored 28-plus points in three consecutive games—their longest such streak since 2005, per ESPN Stats & Info.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)

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    The Kansas City Chiefs defense manufactures havoc. It does it with a tenacious front seven that collapses the pocket and a physical group of defensive backs who are quick to capitalize on opportunities.

    Sunday that recipe for destricution created three interceptions in the fourth quarter. Each turnoever led to a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders (one directly) during Kansas City's sixth straight win.

    After a five-game losing streak, the Chiefs now hold a playoff spot, largely because of their plus-13 giveaway/takeaway differential.

5. New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots had gone 56 games without back-to-back losses, which was the league's longest streak by a country mile. The Carolina Panthers were second at only 15 games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

    Football can be diabolically cruel, so of course the Patriots snapped their streak by losing to an Eagles team that had just dropped three straight games and looked to be in an absolute free fall. And of course the loss came at Gillette Stadium, too, where the Patriots have now fallen only twice since the beginning of 2014. 

    Oh, and of course New England's rare second straight loss came during an afternoon when the opposition scored only two offensive touchdowns but five TDs in total.

    The Patriots will limp along down the stretch due to their numerous injuries to key contributors. But Sunday's game was more than available to be taken, and they handed it over.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have won their last two games by a combined score of 68-10.

    Sure, their opponents (the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams) haven't been of the highest quality. But vastly superior teams are supposed to stomp the weaklings far below their level. The Bengals have done just that, and along the way key pieces of their deep offense have reached early career milestones.

    Wideout A.J. Green became one of only two players to record 1,000-plus receiving yards in five straight seasons to begin a career. Then there's his quarterback Andy Dalton, who's putting together an MVP-caliber year and became only the second passer to sail beyond 3,000 yards during each of his first five seasons.

    Green and Dalton form the core battery of a young offense that's growing and has the tools required to finally make a deep playoff run.

3. Denver Broncos (10-2)

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    There's a human element at play with the Denver Broncos' quarterback situation.

    Quickly after another efficient start Sunday that ended with Denver's third straight win, it's becoming clear Brock Osweiler fits well into a run-oriented offense. He has the arm to make deep downfield throws and much more mobility than the ailing Peyton Manning.

    Osweiler should remain the starter even once Manning heals from his left foot injury. But that's easy for me write, because I'm not Gary Kubiak, the Broncos head coach, who would have to tell a future Hall of Famer that his services aren't wanted during the playoffs.

    That's why the status quo will likely stay in place, with Manning getting his job back, while Osweiler proves he can confidently be a future franchise cornerstone.

2. Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

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    Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson became the first rookie at his position since Gale Sayers to record four-plus rushing and receiving touchdowns in a season, along with a kick-return TD, according to NFL director of NFC communications Randall Liu

    That may be a somewhat quirky bit of trivia, though if "running back" is your job title, being in any sentence that has Sayers' name feels like a crowning achievement.

    Johnson provided exactly what the Cardinals needed after Chris Johnson was placed on injured reserve with a broken leg. At 6'1" and 224 pounds, he has the frame to be a power runner, and the open-field quickness to excel as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Those qualities led to his 120 yards from scrimmage during a win over the Rams.

1. Carolina Panthers (12-0)

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    It took some scratching and/or clawing, but the Carolina Panthers remained undefeated. Their flawless record is intact mostly because the New Orleans Saints treat pass defense like it will cause scurvy or something.

    That's why the Panthers scored 13-plus points during three of the four quarters played Sunday and why quarterback Cam Newton threw five touchdowns passes in a game for the second time this season. He's still your leading MVP candidate right now, though Dalton is making his case.

    But despite the win there was still reason for Carolina to be concerned. A stretch of sloppiness resulted in three first-half turnovers after the Panthers hadn't given the ball away over their previous three games.

    And during that same three-game stretch, their defense had allowed an average of 13.3 points. Saints quarterback Drew Brees carved them up for 38 points Sunday.