The NFL Power Rankings Week 14 have seen quite a bit of movement near the top, after last weekend's slate of games.
When the dust settled in Foxboro Monday night, two teams had clearly positioned themselves as the frontrunners of the NFL: the Atlanta Falcons, who dismantled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second time this season, and the New England Patriots, who blasted apart the New York Jets on Monday.
They have the best record, both hold impressive bodies of work, and are both in the midst of lengthy winning streaks.
Was the Pats' impressive win over the Jets enough to de-throne the Falcons, who have held the top spot for three weeks running? Or did Atlanta's win over the Bucs keep them sitting in the catbird's seat for another week?
Read on to find out.
In honor of Dandy Don Meredith, who passed away at the ripe old age of 72 (still too soon), these are the teams for whom the lights have been turned off.
32 (32). Carolina Panthers: The party's been over since Week 3 in Carolina; they just hadn't figured it out until Brian St. Pierre became their quarterback. I feel like fans can't wait to be rid of John Fox.
31 (30). Arizona Cardinals: You can't play much worse than the Cards have this season. Think they're excited to draft a shiny, new quarterback in next year's draft? I bet wideout Larry Fitzgerald is.
30 (31). Cincinnati Bengals: The Bungles have been playing better in recent weeks, giving the Jets a fight for half a game, and giving the Saints all they could handle this week. But they're still getting killed by mental mistakes, almost like the lights are out in their brains.
29 (25). Denver Broncos: The party's over for Josh McDaniels. But I guess that's what you get when you let a 15-year-old coach your football team.
28 (29) Detroit Lions: Gave Chicago all they could handle, even with Drew Stanton at quarterback.
27 (27). Buffalo Bills: Oh, come on! No one expected the Bills' terrible run defense to pull out a victory against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, right? They stand pat this week.
26 (28). Dallas Cowboys: They're 3-1 since Jason Garrett took over for Wade Phillips. But it's really hard for me to merit putting them any higher than this, since they're out of the playoff race.
These teams aren't out of the playoff hunt quite yet, although they can see it from here.
25 (23). San Francisco 49ers: Sure, the offense is working, but they've dropped another game to fall two back of the Seahawks and Rams. Hope is fading fast in the city by the bay.
24 (21). Washington Redskins: This team isn't out of it yet, mathematically speaking, but if Sunday's performance was any indication, they're toast.
23 (20). Tennessee Titans: So, you have Chris Johnson, one of the best running backs in the NFL, and you give him just 13 carries against one of the NFL's worst run defenses? When did Jeff Fisher turn into John Fox, and why did no one tell me?
22 (24). Minnesota Vikings: Don't look now, but Minnesota's won two straight, and are still in the playoff race, even if it's by the slimmest of margins. Now, about the Brett Favre/Tarvaris Jackson issue.
21 (25). Seattle Seahawks: Suddenly, Seattle's back in the thick of the playoff hunt, and at .500, to get them out of the funk they'd been in recently. All it took was a visit from the woebegone Panthers.
Where They Stood: 22
Why They Rose: The Raiders knocked off a rolling Chargers team to keep themselves barely in the playoff hunt. They need to win out, to be sure, and it would help if the Chiefs could lose out, or at least drop three of their next four, including Week 17 against Oakland.
The Raiders could finish the year as good as 10-6, although that's unlikely given their maddening inconsistency this season. But in 2011, this team could easily take the AFC West.
Where They Stood: 17
Why They Fell: The Texans have now dropped to 5-7, and their hopes of making the playoffs are slimmer than ever. They've lost five of their last, and their defense can't stop anyone.
The offense can still get the job done, but that defense is flat-out terrible. They really do look like an 8-8 team this season, although 5-11 or 6-10 is a very real possibility, given their schedule the rest of the way.
Where They Stood: 19
Why They Rose: The Rams are 6-6 right now, and in the thick of the NFC West playoff race. Any other division and they'd be fighting for their lives, but out west, they're the class of the division. They're not a bad team, just not all that good, either, yet. They could finish the season 8-8, but win the division.
Does that bother anyone else, or just me?
Sam Bradford's been great, and the defense is solid, but there's just not much here to like come the postseason.
Where They Stood: 15
Why They Fell: Miami might be the most mediocre team in the NFL, and they just lost to the Browns on a day when Peyton Hillis was relatively quiet. They're not out of the playoff hunt at 6-6, but they're not really in it, either.
They can beat bad teams, but struggle something awful to hang with good teams. In short, they are the quintessential middle of the pack team, so that's where they wind up.
Where They Stood: 18
Why The Rise: The Browns still own better wins than Miami, and they beat the Dolphins last week, so it doesn't make sense to put them lower.
Now, if only they could figure out just how terrible Jake Delhomme really is, they'd be in business. Peyton Hillis is a stud, and the defense is rolling right now. Be afraid of the Browns come 2011, and they're a fantastic spoiler for the last four weeks of 2010.
Where They Stood: 13
Why They Fell: The Colts are officially in Defcon 5 right now, sitting at 6-6 and in the midst of a three-game losing streak. The defense is a mess, the offensive line can't block (I wonder if Bill Polian regrets releasing Ryan Lilja yet?), and Peyton Manning is rushing throws and trying to win games by himself, which he can't do if the line stinks.
Still, there's hope for a 10-6 finish, with a not-awful schedule down the stretch, and Joseph Addai hopefully returning soon.
Where They Stood: 11
Why They Fell: And just like that, the Chargers' "Campaign to Save Norv Turner's Job" could easily be coming to an abrupt end this week.
Why? A loss would all but eliminate San Diego from playoff contention, and if the Bolts miss the playoffs, I've got a feeling Turner will be gone like a bad habit.
Phillip Rivers has the offense clicking, and the defense can be fantastic when they want to be, but this team lacks to focus to find postseason success.
Where They Stood: 12
Why They Fell: The Bucs are all but out of the NFC South race thanks to their second loss to the Falcons last week, but could still get the wild card if they win out or go 3-1 down the stretch. The Bucs' offense is capable of hanging with Atlanta (or anyone, for that matter), but that defense still needs some time to bake, especially now that corner Aqib Talib is on IR.
Where They Stood: 16
Why They Rose: The Jags are officially on a tear, having won four of their last five, and they've taken sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
Still, those wins are over teams who are either in a rut (Tennessee this week), were in a rut at the time (Houston), or just aren't that good (Dallas). This feels about right for Jacksonville, a decent offensive team with a positively ghastly defense, that is easily exposed by even mediocre passing attacks.
Where They Stood: 5
Why They Fell: When you get smoked that badly, even by a team as good as the Patriots, you don't deserve to be in the top 10.
The Jets were never as good as their record indicated, and New England exposed them for what they are; a good, but not great team with an inconsistent offense, one good pass defender (and no, it's definitely not Antonio Cromartie) and no pass rush against decent offensive lines. They're now just 1-3 on the season against teams with a .500 record or better, and can't hang with the league's elites yet.
This feels much more like the area the Jets should reside in, and their schedule down the stretch has a pair of somewhat easy games (Miami and Buffalo at home) and two hard games (at Pittsburgh, at Chicago), meaning 11-5 seems possible.
Where They Stood: 14
Why They Rose: After dropping two straight games, the Giants look to be back, having beaten the Jags last week and routing the Redskins in Week 13 to re-tie the NFC East race with Philly.
Eli Manning's looked sharp recently, and if the offense is ready to go on a tear, this team could be a force come playoff time. Still, we'll know a lot more about who the Giants are when they take on Philly in Week 15.
Where They Stood: 10
Why They Rose: The Chiefs are 8-4, and now sit in the driver's seat in the AFC West. They avenged their one bad loss this year by beating the Broncos in Week 13, and the offense is finally capable of posting some impressive numbers.
Now, if the defense can replicate it's showing against the Broncos from Week 13, the Chiefs could end the season as a top six team, and the surprise of the season. First, though, they have to beat the Chargers again in Week 14. Once that's out of the way, it's smooth sailing for Kansas City.
Where They Stood: 3
Why They Fell: If Joe Flacco holds on to the football down the stretch of Baltimore's loss to Pittsburgh, perhaps the Ravens win and remain remain third in the rankings.
But that game exposed a lot of weaknesses in Baltimore's offense, as the passing game was unable to generate points when the run game failed to generate yards. But, there's a lot to like about the Ravens, as their defense looks better than it has all season, and they're still certainly a top 10 club. A wild card berth should be in the bag.
Where They Stood: 9
Why They Rose: The Eagles battled back quite nicely against Houston, and kept pace with the Giants at the top of the divsion, but I'm still not sure what to make of this team.
Sure, they beat the Giants, but they promptly turned around and lost to the Bears. They're leading the division, but any more slips and they're on the outside looking in. Even so, this offense can score on anyone, even if the defense can't stop teams from scoring.
Where They Stood Last Week: 8
Why They Rose: The Packers defense is dominant. We knew that before Week 13, but what we didn't know was that the offense would become a force again once Donald Driver was back up to speed.
If the Packers keep this up, they'll stay one of the NFL's best teams, even without a consistent run game. We'll find out if they have enough to win the NFC North when they take on the division leading Bears in Week 17.
Where They Stood: 6
Why They Rose: The Bears have won five straight after a 1-3 patch earlier in the season. They've beaten good teams (Philly) and dispatched the teams they were supposed to beat. The defense is as scary as ever, and the offense is capable of blasting teams out of the water, when the mood strikes them.
Now, if they could get a bit of consistency, they could leapfrog one of the top four teams.
Where They Stood: 4
Why They Didn't Move: The Saints have had back to back narrow escapes in recent weeks, but they've come out with wins and have now won five straight after that 2-3 stretch earlier in the year.
The offense is clicking in a big way, and the defense is flat-out dominant against the pass. If the run defense could find consistency, the Saints would be even further up this list.
Where They Stood: 7
Why They Rose: A dominant defensive performance over the Ravens to avenge their Week 4 defeat, and suddenly the Steelers have a nice little three-game win streak going. Can they hang on in the division, even if Ben Roethlisberger's not the force he was in 2009?
It's possible, but don't be surprised to see Baltimore and Pittsburgh trading paint for the rest of the season.
Where They Stood: 1
Why They Fell: For one week, anyway, the Falcons were not the best team in football. They were one of the best, but they didn't dominate the way a top team should. Can they get back to the catbird seat? Of course.
But, a four point win over a good, but not great Tampa Bay team coupled with a dominant win from the Patriots in Foxboro isn't enough to hang onto it for a fourth straight week.
This team will contend in the playoffs, and should get home field advantage throughout. Can the Falcons take the Super Bowl? Hard to say, but anything can happen.
Where They Stood: 2
Why They Rose: Did you see the way the Patriots dismantled the Jets on Monday night? That was hands down the most dominant performance of the season, and it was against a team who was 9-2 as well!
For that stellar showing, New England earns the coveted top spot in the rankings. Their offense is clicking on all cylinders, their defense is rounding into form, and the Pats have won four straight.
If they keep it up, it won't even be a fair fight; they'll be the NFL's best for the rest of the season. Either way, for one week, at least, they're the best team in the league.