NFL Power Rankings for Week 13 are here after Week 12 of the NFL season is in the books and the teams at the top held serve and cemented their status as championship contenders.
With the Eagles, Packers, and Colts all losing, the Top 12 is even more wide open. And while the Falcons and Saints put a little distance between themselves and the competition, the fight for the other playoff spots is only going to get more intense as we move into December.
The upcoming week will feature several of the league's top teams duking it out: Atlanta travels to Tampa Bay, Baltimore hosts Pittsburgh, and New England has a rematch with New York. Each game will go a long way in determining the winners of the NFC South, AFC North, and AFC East, respectively.
So without further delay, let's get right into it. Starting at the bottom and working our way towards the top...
Poor Carolina. Even when a team like Cleveland tries to give the game away, they can't capitalize.
John Kasay missed a 42-yard field goal as time expired and the Panthers dropped their fifth straight game, losing to Cleveland 24-23. Mike Goodson had another solid game but it wasn't enough to overcome a 14-point first half-deficit.
The schedule doesn't get much easier for Carolina. They play Atlanta twice, travel to Seattle and Pittsburgh, and host Arizona in their final five games.
Right now, they're the clear favorites in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
Things were looking good for Cincinnati. They were fresh off a playoff appearance for the first time in years, they had defeated Baltimore at home, and knocked off the Panthers on the road to go 2-1.
Then reality kicked in.
The Bengals defense has fallen apart, giving up nearly 30 points per game in their eight-game losing streak. The defense can't get any pressure on the opposing quarterback and their run game has disappeared.
Carson Palmer has fallen off the face of the Earth. He's thrown an interception in five straight games and is now up to 15 on the year, with just 19 touchdowns.
No run game.
Derek Anderson at quarterback.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen gave Josh McDaniels a vote of confidence, saying that the coach will be back next season despite a 5-16 record in Denver's last 21 games.
They've lost six of their last seven, giving up 34 points per game in the process, and face a three-game road trip in Kansas City, Arizona, and Oakland on the horizon.
While Kyle Orton has enjoyed a career year, it's been the run game that's given Denver problems. They're No. 31 in the league with just 79.4 yards per game—and on the other side of the ball, they have the same ranking, allowing 141.6 yards.
Tough to be too hard on the Lions when they've suffered tough injuries to several players, including Matthew Stafford and Jahvid Best. They're a young team and it shows on the field—six of their losses have come by eight points or less.
They still have solid foundations in Stafford, Best, Calvin Johnson, and Ndamukong Suh. They're taking their lumps this season (and in the past) but if they can ever get healthy for an entire season they'll be a lot more competitive than their 2-9 record suggests.
About a month ago the Bills looked like a lost cause. It became more difficult to gage them when they lost three straight games by three points—37-34 at Baltimore in overtime, 13-10 at Kansas City in overtime, and 22-19 at home vs. Chicago in a wacky game where each team scored three TDs but a missed extra point and two-point conversion wound up costing the Bills.
But consecutive wins over the Lions and Bengals were positive signs, and the Bills were inches away from an overtime win against one of the best teams in the league, Pittsburgh.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has started to play well recently and Fred Jackson is riding a hot streak, averaging 154 total yards in his last three games to go along with five touchdowns.
Just when you thought the Cowboys were out, they pulled you back in.
And then delivered an ultimate stomach-punch loss on Thanksgiving Day to New Orleans.
Now Dallas' next five games are a chance to play spoiler to rival Philadelphia and Jason Garrett's audition for the permanent head coaching job.
Things have gone from controversial to ugly to downright horrible down in Tennessee.
Aside from the Vince Young/Jeff Fisher fiasco and the Cortland Finnegan/Andre Johnson boxing match, the Titans have dropped four in a row and were forced to turn to Rusty Smith as their starting QB last week.
The results weren't pretty—Houston's atrocious pass defense blanked the Titans 20-0.
Despite everything that's gone on, Tennessee still plays five division games to end the season are only a game out of first place in the AFC South.
Since turning to Troy Smith as the starting QB, the Niners have won three of four...though their competition hasn't been the most difficult (vs. Denver, vs. St. Louis, vs. Tampa Bay, at Arizona).
Even at 4-7, San Francisco is only one game out of first place and they have a 2-1 division record. Aside from a game with each member of their division, they have road games at Green Bay and San Diego.
They're going to have to get stay hot and keep riding the arm of Troy Smith if they want to come away with the division title.
Browns fans are thinking two things:
1. Get Peyton Hillis the ball as much as humanly possible.
2. Get Colt McCoy back on the field as quick as humanly possible.
Cleveland played an absolutely brutal seven-game stretch (at Baltimore, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Atlanta, at Pittsburgh, at New Orleans, vs. New England, vs. New York Jets), but beat the Saints and Patriots and took the Jets deep into overtime.
Whether or not McCoy is the long-term answer at QB is still debatable but the Browns have to be happy with how the team has competed this year.
It was clear that the Vikes rallied around new coach Leslie Frazier last week and pulled off the win in Washington despite Adrian Peterson missing a majority of the game with an injured ankle.
They have a favorable part of the schedule upcoming: a three-game home stand against Buffalo, New York (Giants), Chicago, then travel to Philadelphia and Detroit to close the season.
The problem is, at 4-7, they'll have to win out to have any serious chance of catching either Green Bay or Chicago...and that doesn't seem likely.
Tough to figure out a team like Seattle. They started out 3-0 at home before giving up 41 points in a loss to the Giants and 42 points this past weekend to Kansas City.
Matt Hasselback has had a bit of a resurgence since returning from a wrist injury, throwing for 981 yards and four touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes in the last three games.
They get Carolina and San Francisco at home and have the easiest remaining schedule of anyone in the NFC West...meaning they realistically could finish 7-9 and win the division.
A lot of drama has surrounded the Redskins this year, but in the end they are what they are: a middle-of-the-road, seven or eight win team.
And that's more than likely where they'll end up.
After giving up just 13.5 points per game in a four-game stretch (at San Francisco, at Denver, vs. Seattle, vs. Kansas City), the Oakland defense has been nonexistent the last two weeks, giving up 35 points to Pittsburgh and 33 to Miami.
The Raiders' brief stint in first place was more than likely fleeting, as they travel to red-hot San Diego this week and still face Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Indianapolis in the final weeks.
Ladies and gentleman, the first-place St. Louis Rams!
If you're not a believer in Sam Bradford, get on board. He's had a strong rookie year, filled with the ups-and-downs that most rookies experience, but he's thrown just one interception in his last 210 attempts.
And St. Louis' defense has been better than advertised—especially the defensive front. They're giving up just 103.4 rushing yards a game (good for No. 12 in the league) and are in the top-10 in team sacks.
They just got their first road win of the season last week at Denver and have a chance to get another as they travel to lowly Arizona this week.
The Texans re-wrote the book on painful ways to lose with back-to-back heartbreakers at Jacksonville (last-second Hail Mary) and New York (went from up four to down three in 45 seconds late in the fourth quarter).
Seemingly their hopes of a playoff run were done and they were destined for another 8-8 season.
The next two games will be really telling: at Philadelphia and vs. Baltimore. Unless they win both, they probably won't have much of a chance of finally breaking into the postseason.
The Jags reeled off three straight wins in November, including a thumping of Dallas, the aforementioned last-second Hail Mary win over the Texans, and a 24-20 win over the Browns where Maurice Jones-Drew broke a long pass and eventually scored the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes to play.
At 2-1, Jacksonville has the best division record in the AFC South and thus has the inside track to the division (believe it or not). Unfortunately for them, all of those games were at home—in their final five games, they will have to travel to Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Houston.
Another middle-of-the-pack team that can't seem to get anything consistent going, the Dolphins have alternated wins and losses in their last seven games and are stuck three games behind division leaders New England and New York.
Miami has struggled getting Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams involved in the offense but they finally got going last week against Oakland, combining for 170 yards and a touchdown.
Unfortunately for them, they're just too far behind to make any real noise. And with the other wild card spot more than likely going to either Baltimore or Pittsburgh, the Dolphins will be stuck in no man's land.
Here's where things get interesting in the NFC.
The Bucs are 7-4 and tied with the Eagles, Giants, and Packers. If the Falcons and Saints hold serve, that means there will only be one playoff spot available for Tampa, Green Bay, and the loser of the NFC East.
Statistically Tampa is nothing special, but as coach Raheem Morris says, stats are for losers.
They've beat the teams they're supposed to beat: Cleveland, Carolina (twice), Cincinnati, St. Louis, Arizona, and San Francisco. And they've lost to the teams they should lose to: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Baltimore.
With Washington, Detroit, and Seattle still remaining, it's not inconceivable for them to win 10 games. But they'll have to beat either Atlanta or New Orleans to legitimize themselves in the playoff race.
Much like Tampa Bay, the Chiefs have won seven games by primarily feasting on the weak.
Other than an upset of San Diego in the first game of the season, their wins are against Cleveland, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Arizona, and Seattle—nothing special really stands out.
And their only bad loss came at the hands of the Broncos, a 49-29 beatdown a few weeks ago.
If KC wants to make the playoffs, they need to keep riding the hot hand of Dwayne Bowe, who has 13 touchdowns in the last seven weeks and leads the NFL in receiving yards in that stretch.
They also need to win their next two games: vs. Denver and a showdown at San Diego. That would put them at nine wins and give them the tie-breaker over the Chargers, meaning they'd just need to win one of their final three games (at St. Louis, vs. Tennessee, vs. Oakland) to clinch the division.
I'm lumping the next two teams together because they're still very much alive in the playoff race and can make noise in the postseason, but injuries have really ravished them this season and could be the potential downfall in a playoff run.
You have to feel for the Colts (OK, maybe you don't). They're losing running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs seemingly on a weekly basis but they're still plugging along, led by (who else?) Peyton Manning.
But Manning has struggled in the last two weeks against New England and San Diego, throwing seven interceptions as the Colts have dropped to 6-5 and second-place in the AFC South (they currently lose the tiebreaker to the Jaguars).
It's never wise to count Manning and the Colts out, and since they still have three division games remaining they're far from being out of contention. However, it's hard to believe that even Peyton Manning could lead this team to a deep playoff run unless they get at least one or two pieces back in the lineup.
Even with injuries across the board (started at the beginning of the season), here are Green Bay's four losses this season:
—at Chicago: 20-17
—at Washington: 16-13 (OT)
—vs. Miami: 23-20 (OT)
—at Atlanta: 20-17
Four losses by a combined 12 points.
Aaron Rodgers is starting to play really well—not that he wasn't playing well all season, but the lack of a running game somewhat hindered his ability. He's starting to get a comfortable feel now, throwing for 934 yards and eight touchdowns with a 75 percent completion percentage in his last three games.
The Packers have winnable games upcoming (vs. San Francisco, at Detroit) before a brutal three-game stretch to end the season (at New England, vs. New York Giants, vs. Chicago).
The Giants have been all over the place this season. After getting blown out by Indianapolis and Tennessee in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively, they responded by winning five in a row and looking like the best team in the NFC.
But they caught some of their competition at just the right time—Houston and Dallas were imploding, Detroit is Detroit, and Seattle started Charlie Whitehurst in their matchup.
So when they dropped back-to-back contests to Dallas and Philadelphia, it shouldn't have been that big of a shock.
They bounced back nicely last week with a come-from-behind victory against Jacksonville to get themselves back to 7-4 and tied for first place in the division. They'll have to continue to ride the dominant play of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and the rest of the defensive line in key matchups with Washington (home and away) and Philadelphia (home) down the stretch.
After Mike Vick's incredible, jaw-dropping, video game-esque performance against the Redskins on Monday night, he's looked human the past two weeks.
Both the Giants and Bears did a nice job getting pressure on Vick by just rushing four guys and keeping him contained (relatively).
Fortunately for the Eagles, they play Houston's No. 31 and Dallas' No. 23 ranked pass defenses in the next two weeks. After that, they have a showdown in New York with the Giants—the winner will have the inside track on winning the division and not relying on fighting Chicago/Green Bay/Tampa Bay/New Orleans for a wild card spot.
This team was 2-5 at one point? How is that even possible?
San Diego's defense has been lights out this year. They are No. 1 in total yards allowed (273.6 per game), No. 2 in passing yards (192.5), No. 3 in rushing yards (81.1), and No. 1 in sacks (33.0).
They haven't lost a game in November or December since 2008 and rolled through the November portion of their schedule this year, beating Houston, Denver, and Indianapolis.
Oh, and Phillip Rivers is on pace to almost break Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a single season.
The Chargers are clicking on all cylinders right now and return home for three games against Oakland, Kansas City, and San Francisco. It's not inconceivable that they reel off wins in all three of those games and take a stranglehold on the AFC West.
The formula for Chicago has been simple: great defense, an offense with playmaking capabilities, great defense, a quarterback with big play potential, great defense, and keeping mistakes to a minimum.
The Bears have reeled off four in a row, the most impressive being a win over Mike Vick and the Eagles this past Sunday. As the year winds down, it looks like the last game of the season, at Green Bay, will have serious division and playoff implications.
Aside from a slip-up at home to the Peyton Hillis-led Cleveland Browns, the Saints have been rolling with wins in five of their last six games.
They've scored 30 points in three straight games and last week's come-from-behind win over Dallas could be the exact kind of season-defining win they needed.
Losses from Philly, Green Bay, and Tampa Bay this week helped strengthen New Orleans' grasp on the wild card and they trail Atlanta by just a game in the NFC South, with their second contest coming on Dec. 27 on Monday night.
Pittsburgh has used their usual recipe of strong defense (especially against the run), a solid rushing attack, and a balance of possession and big-play wide receivers to work their way to an 8-3 record.
The three losses? Baltimore (with no Ben Roethlisberger), at New Orleans, and New England.
The combined record of those three teams: 25-7.
However, if they lose to the Ravens this week, that will put them essentially two games back in the division since Baltimore would own the tiebreaker.
Aside from a bad loss in Week 2 to Cincinnati (which wasn't a bad loss at the time), the Ravens have rolled through the regular season, with their only defeats coming to New Orleans and Atlanta.
Only one team has scored more than 26 points against their stingy defense this season: the Buffalo Bills, who dropped 34 in Baltimore about a month ago.
As mentioned in the previous slide, this weekend's showdown with the Steelers could very well decide the NFC North.
Since a four-interception game against the Bengals, Joe Flacco has thrown just three interceptions in the last nine games. His play will be instrumental in determining Baltimore's chances this week.
Exciting, late-game finishes against Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston make the Jets seem like a team of destiny this year.
After a team accumulates so many close wins, they start to develop a winning culture. By that I mean, even when situations seem dire, they believe they'll find a way to pull out a win.
As if a Rex Ryan team needed any more confidence.
A win against the Patriots this week and it'll be tough to keep New York out of the top spot next week.
Winners of five in a row, the Falcons have solidified themselves as the current favorites in the NFC.
They take their talents on the road for the next three games, including a big divisional matchup with the Buccaneers this Sunday. But Carolina and Seattle are the other two opponents (both winnable games).
The Dec. 27 matchup with New Orleans not only might decide the division, but could determine the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Pats have won eight of nine and took down some of the NFL's elite in the process (Indianapolis, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Baltimore).
Even though the Jets had their number in the first game, New England has to be considered No. 1 because of the dialed in play of Tom Brady. After getting outplayed by Colt McCoy a few weeks ago, he's been a man on a mission (877 passing yards, 10 total touchdowns since the loss to Cleveland).
But they're not cemented at this spot. The winner of New England-New York should be considered one of, if not the top Super Bowl contender.
Until Week 14, at least.