NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Standings Heading into Week 13

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 2, 2015

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Standings Heading into Week 13

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Move over, Peyton Manning. Brock Osweiler beat Tom Brady in his first try. 

    OK, let's ground this a little more in reality. The Denver Broncos dethroned the previously undefeated New England Patriots. It took an entire team effort that was punctuated by C.J. Anderson's 48-yard touchdown scamper in overtime. But one couldn't watch the game without starting to wonder if the Broncos are better with Osweiler as their starting quarterback. 

    With the loss, the Patriots no longer stand as Bleacher Report's No. 1-ranked team. How far did they fall, though? 

    To make sense of it all, eight of our NFL writers—Gary Davenport, Mike Freeman, Brad Gagnon, Matt Miller, Ty Schalter, Mike Tanier, Sean Tomlinson and yours truly—ranked the teams.

    In order to build a consensus for these power rankings, each squad's ranking from each writer was added to the others. The lowest totals indicated the best teams, while the highest totals marked the other end of the spectrum. If there was a tie, the club with the single highest vote got the nod as the better squad.

    The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, finally found their way to the bottom of the rankings after yet another ridiculous loss courtesy of an unpredictable finish. 

    Click through the slideshow to find out where all of the teams landed in Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Standings.

32. Cleveland Browns

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Current Record: 2-9

    Highest Ranking: 23 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Sobleski, Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: The Cleveland Browns' quarterback situation is a mess once again. After head coach Mike Pettine named Johnny Manziel the starter and subsequently benched him during the team's bye week, veteran Josh McCown took over the offense. Unfortunately, McCown suffered a collarbone injury Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens, and Austin Davis was forced to finish the contest.

    Davis performed well in his first appearance with the team. The 26-year-old signal-caller connected with Travis Benjamin for the game-tying touchdown and even led the team into position for a game-winning field-goal attempt. But we all know what happened next. 

    What's Bad?: Just when Browns fans thought they had seen it all, the team sinks to new depths. The Browns special teams' performance against the Ravens was simply atrocious, and it culminated in a blocked field goal-turned-game-winning touchdown after time already expired. While this kick in the gut ended the game, the Browns also surrendered an 82-yard touchdown on a punt return and lost former first-round pick Justin Gilbert to an apparent concussion on a kick return. As many of the team's fans often say, "Only in Cleveland." 

    What's Next?: After yet another embarrassing loss, the Browns are now moving forward with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft well within reach. They'll likely be one loss closer to that goal after this weekend's contest against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 29

31. San Francisco 49ers

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Current Record: 3-8

    Highest Ranking: 24 (Sobleski)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Blaine Gabbert continues to impress. Against the Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback threw for a career-high 318 yards. Because of his career revival, the rest of the San Francisco 49ers are playing at a much higher level now than at the start of the season. During these teams' first meeting in 2015, the Cardinals won, 47-7. Nine weeks later, the 49ers actually entered the fourth quarter tied with the NFC West division leader. 

    "He’s a heck of a quarterback," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said, per Taylor Price of the team's site. "He has everybody fighting for him. He has everybody comfortable with him behind center. Guys are out there making plays for him."

    What's Bad?: The 49ers defense played at a high level through two quarters against the NFL's top-ranked offense. However, the team didn't take advantage of early mistakes—ahem, Tramaine Brock—and couldn't hold down the Cardinals offense for the entire contest. Eventually, the 49ers gave up a couple of big plays to J.J. Nelson and John Brown. Clearly, the 49ers improved from the early portions of the season, but they're still far behind the league's top teams. 

    What's Next?: The Chicago Bears are one of the NFL's most improved teams and the 49ers' opponent this weekend. San Francisco might have played better in recent weeks, but Chicago actually won three of its last four games. One of the main reasons behind the Bears' improvement falls on the pass defense, which ranks second overall. Gabbert could regress because of this difficult matchup.

    Last Week's Ranking: 32

30. Tennessee Titans

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Current Record: 2-9

    Highest Ranking: 25 (Schalter)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Davenport, Miller)

    What's Good?: Neither the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski nor the Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen leads all tight ends in receptions. The Tennessee Titans' Delanie Walker does. Walker's 59 receptions are tied for 14th among all receivers—the tight end is currently tied with the Detroit Lions' Golden Tate. Quarterback Marcus Mariota targeted Walker eight times Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. He caught six passes for 91 yards. 

    What's Bad?: While Walker continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, the Titans wide receivers aren't providing their rookie quarterback with much help. Mariota targeted Harry Douglas, Dorial Green-Beckham and Kendall Wright 21 times Sunday. The trio only managed six receptions. Tennessee's wide receiver corps continues to let the squad down, and a late interception sealed another loss for the struggling franchise. 

    "I know the last one was definitely my fault," Wright said, per Jim Wyatt of the team's site. "I don’t think I gave up on the play. In my route I got a collision, and the ball was in the air before I could make my next move. But that’s all on me. I have to fight through that. ... It is my fault. I definitely won’t let anything like that happen again."

    What's Next?: After three straight losses, the 2-9 Titans can officially be called the NFL's worst team. Everyone knew there were going to be growing pains with a rookie quarterback and a lack of talent at certain positions. The team continues to play hard, though, and it can serve as spoiler in the coming weeks. This weekend's opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, still holds dearly to its playoff aspirations even if they're fleeting. A Titans win would dash those hopes. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 31

29. Baltimore Ravens

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Current Record: 4-7

    Highest Ranking: 25 (Gagnon, Miller)

    Lowest Ranking: 30 (Sobleski)

    What's Good?: These aren't your normal Baltimore Ravens, but they still found a way to win another game. In fact, the Ravens have now won three of their last four, and this is a roster that no longer features Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, Justin Forsett or Joe Flacco. Those veteran stalwarts can all be found on injured reserve.

    However, the team continues to play tremendously hard, which is a testament to head coach John Harbaugh and the players in that locker room. It may have taken a kick-six as time expired and an earlier punt-return touchdown, but the Ravens found a way to go into Cleveland and escape with a victory. 

    What's Bad?: There's a reason why Matt Schaub lost his job with the Houston Texans and never earned the starting spot after being traded to the Oakland Raiders. The quarterback threw five pick-sixes in the past two seasons. Schaub threw another Monday night. The veteran never saw Karlos Dansby drop underneath an in-breaking route, and the linebacker turned the interception into a 52-yard touchdown.

    Schaub later threw a second interception, which was picked by cornerback Tramon Williams. The Ravens don't need their former backup quarterback to take over games. The team simply needs him to play efficient football. 

    What's Next?: Anyone who looks at the Ravens' schedule closely will immediately notice the team's recent victories have come against three of the league's worst teams (Browns, Rams, Chargers). The level of competition won't change this weekend. The Miami Dolphins are a mess and decided to fire their offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, this week after already dismissing their head coach earlier in the year. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 28

28. Dallas Cowboys

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Current Record: 3-8

    Highest Ranking: 22 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 31 (Miller, Tanier)

    What's Good?: The Carolina Panthers throttled the Dallas Cowboys 33-14 on Thanksgiving, which makes it difficult to find too many positives from the game. Rolando McClain was one of the best players on the field, though. The middle linebacker might have dropped an interception, but he also led everyone with 12 total tackles. Three of those tackles were for a loss.

    The only middle linebacker to play better this past weekend just happened to be his counterpart, Luke Kuechly. McClain, the former eighth overall pick, has gotten continually better over the past month, and he's now playing at a high level. 

    What's Bad?: The fleeting hope of resurrecting the team's season came crashing down when quarterback Tony Romo was crushed Thursday and suffered a second collarbone injury. 

    "Romo has a hairline fracture and is out for the year. No surgery," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan (via the Dallas Morning NewsJon Machota).

    The Cowboys lost seven straight games without Romo in the lineup. Matt Cassel will now be asked to take over, but Dallas' season is done for all intents and purposes. 

    What's Next?: Even at 3-8, the Cowboys are only two games behind the division-leading Washington Redskins. With a healthy Romo, Dallas might have a chance. It's far less likely now since the team seems to completely deflate without its franchise quarterback in the lineup.

    A trip to Washington to face those Redskins on Monday night will be a tough test. The Redskins could assert themselves as the NFC East's top team, or the Cowboys could once again rekindle any hope the organization had this season. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 22

27. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Current Record: 4-7

    Highest Ranking: 23 (Davenport, Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Tanier)

    What's Good?: Chip Kelly's offense finds ways to utilize the tight end position. Zach Ertz is the team's second-leading receiver, and veteran Brent Celek has played extremely well in recent weeks. Ertz wasn't in the lineup Thursday, though. Trey Burton was asked to perform in his stead.

    The Florida product finished second on the team with 49 receiving yards, including a 43-yard reception, which was the team's longest play of the afternoon. The Philadelphia Eagles haven't been very good lately, but their tight ends continue to produce and generally serve as a catalyst for the rest of the offense. 

    What's Bad?: In the last three weeks, the Eagles lost all three of their games and surrendered 110 points. There is plenty of blame to go around in Philadelphia, but the defense is an absolute mess at this juncture. The unit is ranked 25th overall in total defense and gave up 45 points in each of the past two contests.

    In those two games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston and Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford combined to throw for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Despite these issues, Kelly doesn't plan on making any major changes on that side of the ball. 

    "I'm very confident in [defensive coordinator Billy Davis] and all those guys on the defensive side of the ball," Kelly said Monday, per ESPN.com's Phil Sheridan. "I've seen Billy do a great job. Up until two weeks ago, I thought we were doing some really good things on the defensive side of the ball." 

    There were plenty of issues during the Eagles' Thanksgiving Day implosion, but the defense has now severely disappointed in its last two performances.  

    What's Next?: Even after a rough stretch in November, the Eagles can redeem themselves against the New England Patriots. While this looks like a tremendous mismatch with Tom Brady behind center and the Eagles' recent defensive woes, the Patriots will likely be without tight end Rob Gronkowski. After already losing Julian Edelman to injury, New England might not be quite as explosive on offense. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 26

26. Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Current Record: 4-7

    Highest Ranking: 23 (Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 31 (3 voters)

    What's Good?: The Miami Dolphins are imploding before our very eyes. Thus, it's quite difficult to find a silver lining to their abysmal season. However, Jarvis Landry continues to play at a high level.

    The second-year wide receiver caught 13 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown in the team's 38-20 loss to the rival New York Jets. Landry leads the team with 76 receptions for 816 yards and four touchdowns.

    Rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker even made a legit contribution this past weekend. The Louisville product caught four passes for 80 yards, which included his first career touchdown. Obviously, it wasn't enough, but maybe the team's next head coach can take full advantage of this talented duo. 

    What's Bad?: Well, should we start with yet another coaching-staff dismissal or Ndamukong Suh's supposed comments? Since the latest incident involved another firing, it's the logical place to begin. The team dismissed offensive coordinator Bill Lazor after Sunday's performance. Miami is ranked 27th overall in total offense. Quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor will now take over play-calling duties. 

    Meanwhile on the defensive side of the ball, the $114 million man reportedly called out his teammates.

    "I'm told he told them: 'I run this defense, I'm going to be here for the next five years, there is no guarantee any of you will be as well. Only a handful of guys are good enough to play with me right now,'" NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra). "He also said the schemes were not good enough, the techniques were not enough and everyone needed to be better, he said 'follow me.'"

    After another loss, the offense still required further change, and the defense obviously didn't respond to Suh's speech (if he even said it at all). 

    What's Next?: It's difficult to find another win on the Dolphins' schedule when the team's upheaval is taken into consideration. Even this weekend's meeting with a depleted Baltimore Ravens squad is in question since John Harbaugh's team has won three of its last four games. If the Dolphins can't find a way to win this weekend, they might not win another game this season (yes, that includes a meeting with the 3-8 San Diego Chargers). 

    Last Week's Ranking: 23

25. St. Louis Rams

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Current Record: 4-7

    Highest Ranking: 22 (Sobleski)

    Lowest Ranking: 27 (4 voters)

    What's Good?: The Cincinnati Bengals pummeled the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Quarterback Nick Foles once again made his case with three interceptions that he's not a quality starter. Foles wasn't the only starter to play poorly. Most of the team failed to show up against the AFC North's best squad.

    Wide receiver Tavon Austin wasn't one of them. The West Virginia product led the team in rushing with 63 yards, since the Bengals completely shut down Todd Gurley. Austin also caught six passes for 33 yards.

    What's Bad?: Whatever anyone does, don't ask Rams head coach Jeff Fisher if his team displayed a lack of effort. Some wouldn't like the answer he'll give. Despite Fisher's memorable sound bite, the team appears lost and isn't playing to its potential.

    Without Gurley's production, the offense can't consistently move the ball. The team's talented defense didn't even play well. There were times when the secondary decided not to cover one of the league's most talented wide receivers, A.J. Green. Sunday's performance was a complete breakdown on almost all fronts. After four straight losses, St. Louis' effort really should be questioned. 

    What's Next?: The Rams surprised the Arizona Cardinals with a 24-22 victory at the start of October. It's highly unlikely the same will occur this weekend when St. Louis hosts the Cardinals. A strong defensive effort will be needed against the NFL's top-ranked offense, because the Rams offense simply can't provide much. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 19

24. New Orleans Saints

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Current Record: 4-7

    Highest Ranking: 19 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 32 (Gagnon, Schalter)

    What's Good?: The Houston Texans held the New Orleans Saints to six points and 268 offensive yards. Basically, nothing went right for the Saints on Sunday, and very little has during the team's current three-game losing streak. At the least, the team's defense surrendered 56 fewer yards than its yearly average. Safety Kenny Vaccaro showed up to play with a team-leading 13 total tackles. It doesn't seem like much, but it's better than what the Saints faithful have seen in recent weeks. 

    What's Bad?: Is the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era coming to end? The noise is growing louder after another disappointing season. The team has now started 4-7 each of the last two campaigns, which never occurred during their first eight seasons together. 

    "Drew Brees likely wont be back, this team is amid a major rebuild, and in a year with so many teams looking for new coachespro and collegeand a limited pool of qualified talent, the draft-pick return on Payton could be very substantial," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora wrote. 

    The Saints lost to the Texans 24-6 even after having two weeks to prepare for this contest. Usually, Payton's teams are well-prepared coming out of the bye week. That certainly wasn't the case this year. Eventually, every coach reaches the point of diminishing returns. 

    What's Next?: Three straight losses could very easily turn into four with the undefeated Carolina Panthers next on the docket. When these teams originally met in September, backup quarterback Luke McCown kept the game close, but this isn't the same Saints team at this point in the season. More importantly, the Panthers are better now than they were then. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 24

23. San Diego Chargers

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Current Record: 3-8

    Highest Ranking: 16 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 29 (Davenport, Gagnon)

    What's Good?: While the San Diego Chargers defense can be described as a major disappointment this season, the growing rapport between linebackers Manti Te'o and rookie Denzel Perryman should prove to be an exciting building block for the team's future. The duo combined for 13 total tackles, a tackle for loss, a deflected pass and an interception during Sunday's 31-25 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

    “Those two are going to be good if they can stay on the field," safety Eric Weddle said, per ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams. "Manti’s instinctual. He’s more vocal, more fluid and athletic. And Denzel’s physical. He’s explosive, and he’s a thumper. We’ve seen it anytime that he plays. He’s going to hit you."

    The two complement each other well. Now, the team needs to add legit pieces to the rest of the front seven for the defense to drastically improve next season. 

    What's Bad?: Injuries have been a constant for the Chargers this season, particularly along the offensive line. Trevor Robinson continues to fill in at center for the injured Chris Watt, and he's been a weak link up front. The center surrendered a pair of sacks Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to Pro Football Focus. Only two centers, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Cody Wallace and San Francisco 49ers' Marcus Martin, have received worse grades than Robinson this season from the advanced-statistics site.  

    What's Next?: After finally getting back into the win column, the Chargers now face the surging Denver Broncos. The Brock Osweiler-led Broncos are coming off their biggest win of the season, a 30-24 overtime thriller against the previously undefeated New England Patriots. In order to pull off the upset, the Chargers defense must find a way to overwhelm Osweiler, who will be making only his third career start. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 30

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

    Current Record: 4-7

    Highest Ranking: 17 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 31 (Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: For the past three seasons, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller toiled in relative anonymity. The interior defender has been a solid performer since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers originally drafted him in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft. He rarely receives the praise he deserves, though. It's time to give him a little credit.

    Miller has been tremendous over the past two weeks. The Texas product registered five total tackles, including two tackles for loss, a sack and another quarterback hit against the San Diego Chargers. The 1-technique absolutely manhandled Chargers backup center Trevor Robinson. Miller does the dirty work inside, and it's not going completely unnoticed. 

    What's Bad?: Wide receiver Allen Hurns suffered a scary injury during Sunday's contest. The second-year pro needed to be carted off the field in a neck brace. Ultimately, doctors found Hurns suffered a concussion, and he hasn't been ruled out for this weekend's game against the Tennessee Titans, according to the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran. However, ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco reported his potential return this weekend is "unlikely," per a league source. Hurns is currently second on the team with 48 receptions for 758 yards. 

    What's Next?: At 4-7, the Jaguars are now two games behind the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. Jacksonville simply let an opportunity slip away when it could have kept pace with both of those squads. Instead, the team now has five games to try to close the gap. It starts with a trip to Tennessee to face the 2-9 Titans. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 25

21. Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Current Record: 4-7

    Highest Ranking: 17 (Schalter)

    Lowest Ranking: 26 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: The 2013 NFL draft is considered the worst in recent history. No marquee name topped the class, and the majority of the top 10 selections underwhelmed during their first three seasons. However, the Detroit Lions were the one team to strike gold among the first 10 picks.

    Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was considered a major project when he entered the league. Instead, he has already developed into one of the game's top edge defenders. His talent was on full display Thursday when he terrorized Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. Ansah registered 3.5 quarterback sacks and three more quarterback hits. The Lions defender is now second in the league with 11.5 sacks. 

    What's Bad?: It's easy to forget how dominant wide receiver Calvin Johnson can be until the Lions realize he's a mismatch nightmare and decide to use him. The former Georgia Tech standout cannot be covered by mortal men when he decides to dominate. He proved that again on Thanksgiving with eight catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns.

    However, Johnson's health needs to be closely monitored. The wide receiver continues to deal with ankle issues. He returned to practice Monday, according to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke, though. As long as Megatron stays healthy and quarterback Matthew Stafford remembers he's on the team, Johnson can continue to dominate. This hasn't always been the case this season. 

    What's Next?: A three-game winning streak now has the once-hapless Lions thinking about a possible playoff appearance. While it remains an outside shot at best, the Lions' revival after numerous changes within the organization has the team going in the right direction. The turnaround started three weeks ago in Green Bay when the Lions escaped with an 18-16 victory. The Packers come to Detroit on Thursday, and this Lions squad is even better than the one they originally faced. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 27

20. Buffalo Bills

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Current Record: 5-6

    Highest Ranking: 13 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 21 (Miller)

    What's Good?: When Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins is good, he's very good. When he's bad, he's nonexistent. The good Watkins was on display this weekend. 

    The Kansas City Chiefs didn't have an answer for the talented wide receiver. The Clemson product caught six passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. It's basically been all or nothing for the wide receiver in his second season.

    When Sunday's outburst is combined with his 168-yard effort against the Miami Dolphins earlier this year, he amassed 326 yards in those two games. For the rest of the season (six more contests), Watkins only has 200 receiving yards. The Bills definitely need more consistency out of their top receiver, but he continues to flash big-play ability. 

    What's Bad?: Defensive tackle Kyle Williams has been officially ruled out for the rest of the season, per the team's official site. Williams played in the first six games of the season before he suffered a knee injury against the Cincinnati Bengals. The defender attempted to rehab the torn meniscus and return this season. The injury didn't respond to the treatment and required surgery. 

    "I don’t believe he’s going to be able to help us the rest of this year," head coach Rex Ryan said. "It’s unfortunate because I know nobody has tried to get out here more than he has. It just hasn’t responded."

    With Williams out of the lineup, Corbin Bryant will continue to start. Bryant is a solid rotational player, but he hasn't played particularly well as a starter. 

    What's Next?: After a tough two-game slate against the New England Patriots and the surging Chiefs, the Bills face another team currently in the midst of a winning streak. The Houston Texans have won four straight games, and their defense has been the NFL's best since Week 8. Another Bills loss will place the team's playoff hopes in extreme jeopardy. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 12

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Current Record: 5-6

    Highest Ranking: 13 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 21 (Schalter)

    What's Good?: Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston deserves plenty of credit for his rapid improvement this season, but running back Doug Martin is the driving force behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' improved offensive performance.

    Over the last two seasons, the former Pro Bowl runner only accumulated 950 rushing yards. The Boise State product has already eclipsed 1,000 yards this season after his 97-yard effort Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts (90 of his yards came in the first half, and he was only given two carries in the second half). In the last two games, Martin amassed 332 rushing yards. He's currently the NFL's second-leading rusher behind the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson.

    What's Bad?: Undrafted rookie cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah had a rough time Sunday. Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck continually targeted the first-year defender. The 40-year-old signal-caller threw 11 passes his way and completed eight of them, including a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus (via the Tampa Bay Times' Thomas Bassinger). To his credit, Adjei-Barimah finished second on the team with nine total tackles. 

    What's Next?: If the Buccaneers are serious about a playoff appearance this season, Sunday's meeting with the Atlanta Falcons will likely determine if those aspirations are legitimate. Tampa Bay trails Atlanta (and the Seattle Seahawks) by one game for the final wild-card playoff spot. The Falcons have lost four straight games, though. This is the Buccaneers' opportunity to strike and legitimately enter the playoff conversation. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 14

18. Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-5

    Highest Ranking: 10 (Miller, Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 25 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Things are falling apart quickly for the Atlanta Falcons after a 5-0 start. Despite losing the last four games, the Falcons are still in the thick of the playoff race, and there are a handful of players still performing well.

    Ricardo Allen is a prime example. The cornerback-turned-free safety appears comfortable in his new position. The defensive back snagged an interception in the end zone to prevent a potential score Sunday by the Minnesota Vikings. It was his second interception in as many weeks. The 23-year-old leads the team with three interceptions. He also deflected four passes so far this season. 

    What's Bad?: Where have you gone, Matt Ryan? The quarterback's play has been so bad as of late, the home crowd booed his performance Sunday. Minnesota picked Ryan twice. The Falcons quarterback now has 12 interceptions this season, which is third-worst among starting signal-callers. 

    "Obviously it’s disappointing because again, we had opportunities to score in the red zone and turned it over," Ryan said after the game, per the team's official site. "It starts with me, I’ve got to be better, in terms of decision-making and knowing when to just throw the ball away, cut our losses and kick a field goal." 

    What's Next?: The Falcons' current losing streak began with a 23-20 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Atlanta can get a little revenge this weekend when it travels to Florida. This will be the first of three straight road games. Atlanta also has two upcoming contests scheduled against the undefeated Carolina Panthers. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 13

17. Washington Redskins

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 5-6

    Highest Ranking: 13 (Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 20 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: There is a football term for tight ends who primarily serve as pass-catchers. They are called "move" tight ends. They generally line up as H-backs rather than being used as traditional in-line blockers.

    The Washington Redskins' Jordan Reed is a perfect example of a move tight end, and his performance Sunday against the New York Giants showed both the good and the bad. First, Reed's blocking can be terrible at times. But his value to the team comes as a receiver. In the Redskins' 20-14 victory over the New York Giants, Reed led the team with eight receptions for 98 yards. 

    "He's a huge weapon for us," head coach Jay Gruden said, per CSNMidAtlantic.com's JP Finlay. "Kirk [Cousins] is very comfortable with him. He’s obviously a big part of our offense.”

    Cousins added, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, "He's an elite tight end. He's the real deal as a receiver, and as long as he's here we'll feature him and try to get him the football."

    What's Bad?: In his first game as a free safety, DeAngelo Hall wasn't awful. He simply made a few mistakes that could have cost the Redskins. The veteran has always been prone to penalties, but he got called for two major infractions because of a facemask and a horse collar, which cost the team 30 yards. The veteran defensive back provides experience and versatility along the back line. He simply needs to become more comfortable in his new role. 

    What's Next?: The Redskins can proudly proclaim they're the NFC East division leaders, but it's up to them to remain atop the standings. The only thing separating Washington from the Giants is their current record within the division. However, the Redskins still play the Dallas Cowboys twice, including Monday's contest, and the Philadelphia Eagles one more time.

    Last Week's Ranking: 21

16. New York Giants

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 5-6

    Highest Ranking: 11 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 20 (Schalter)

    What's Good?: How bad can it be? Despite losing to the Washington Redskins this past weekend, the New York Giants are still ranked slightly ahead of their rival in this week's power rankings. Multiple reasons can explain why they're still slightly ahead.

    First, the Giants are a better offensive team, but they're currently dealing with injuries. Second, the field conditions were awful Sunday. Finally, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. still lead New York's offense. They're going to connect and make plays. Beckham thrilled everyone once again with an amazing diving catch and led all players with nine catches for 142 yards. The Redskins might have the edge in the division at the moment, but New York is still very much alive in this race. 

    What's Bad?: While everyone might expect the Giants to put it together at some point this season, they continue to take steps back at the worst times. Some of the team's issues won't go away this year either. For example, an already banged-up offensive line suffered another serious blow Sunday when guard Geoff Schwartz fractured his leg against the Redskins, according to NJ.com's James Kratch. 

    "Felt a pop again, I thought I was fine...but I wasn't," Schwartz told Kratch. "It's disappointing again, I just don't know what else to say.

    With Schwartz out of the lineup, rookie Bobby Hart will likely take over at right guard. 

    What's Next?: The Giants' current problems might become even more glaring playing against the New York Jets' aggressive defense this weekend. A loss, though, could put them a full game (plus the division tiebreaker) behind the Washington Redskins. This team doesn't have time for excuses. The Giants simply must play better from this point forward. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 10

15. Chicago Bears

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Current Record: 5-6

    Highest Ranking: 11 (Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 19 (Gagnon)

    What's Good?: The Chicago Bears own the league's second-best pass defense. This may be a little shocking to some, since the Bears secondary features names such as Tracy Porter, Bryce Callahan, Chris Prosinski and Adrian Amos. Outside of last year's first-round pick, Kyle Fuller, this isn't the type of secondary that strikes fear in opposing offenses. Yet, the group continue to play at a very high level.

    Against the hated Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving, the Bears held quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 202 passing yards. The secondary isn't simply playing strong fundamental football; the pass rush continues to improve as well. Rodgers was sacked twice, but he was also hit six more times. Pernell McPhee and Willie Young also deserve some credit for the team's vastly improved pass defense. 

    What's Bad?: An overlooked aspect of the Bears' turnaround this season is the fact a pair of rookies anchor both the middle of the offense and defense. Well, anchor could be too kind of a description. Eddie Goldman is holding up well at nose tackle, but center Hroniss Grasu experienced some problems this year.

    Part of the offensive lineman's issues stem from a lack of strength in his base. He struggled to hold the point of attack against the Packers' interior defenders. The Oregon product surrendered three quarterback hurries in the contest, according to Pro Football Focus. He's now given up six hurries in his last two starts. 

    What's Next?: After winning three of their last four games, the Bears are trending in the right direction. One more win could very well place the team in the thick of the playoff chase. In order to reach that point, John Fox's squad must defeat this weekend's opponent, the San Francisco 49ers. Current Bears defensive coordinator and former 49ers assistant Vic Fangio likely circled this game at the beginning of the season. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 18

14. Houston Texans

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    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Current Record: 6-5

    Highest Ranking: 11 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 21 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel deserves some credit for the team's turnaround. The longtime NFL assistant and defensive coordinator (and short-lived head coach) has the team's defense absolutely rolling. During Houston's four-game winning streak, the Texans surrendered only two touchdowns. Both came against the New York Jets, which means three out of those four teams couldn't find the end zone.

    Obviously, the Texans have plenty of talent on defense, which allows them to dominate for stretches, but this same unit gave up 44 points to the Miami Dolphins before this current winning streak began. Now, the Texans are sixth overall in total defense. In fact, the unit ranks first in points per game, yards per game, sacks per game and passing touchdowns since Week 8, according to ESPN

    What's Bad?: The defense is dominating. Brian Hoyer is healthy. Houston won four straight games. Even the running game was better this past weekend. Life is good for the Texans. The team is striving to be even better. 

    "But you can never be satisfied," head coach Bill O'Brien said, per ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli. "I can’t stress this enough, like I tried to after the game. As soon as you kind of get satisfied, or you’re resting on your laurels or whatever it may be, you’re going to get beat."

    Because of a poor start to the season, the Texans are barely over .500 and still competing with the Indianapolis Colts for the top spot in the AFC South. O'Brien's squad can't be satisfied, because there is still too much work to be done. 

    What's Next?: The work starts against the Buffalo Bills, who lead a difficult three-game stretch for the Texans. After the Bills, the Texans will play the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football, and that game is followed by a crucial divisional matchup against the Colts. Houston's defense will need to be up to the task in the coming weeks. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 20

13. Oakland Raiders

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Current Record: 5-6

    Highest Ranking: 9 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 18 (Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: The Oakland Raiders coaching staff benched D.J. Hayden in favor of David Amerson. The Washington Redskins released Amerson in September, before the Raiders claimed the cornerback off waivers.

    In his second game, the North Carolina State product put together one of the best performances of his career. Amerson did his best impression of Gandalf by deflecting six intended passes. The Tennessee Titans actually targeted the third-year cornerback 10 times and completed only two passes, according to Pro Football Focus. No defensive back received a higher grade from the advanced-stats site during Week 12.

    Hayden might have trouble getting his starting spot back since Amerson appears to have locked down one cornerback spot. 

    What's Bad?: Not only did Hayden get benched, but the former first-round pick barely played Sunday. The coaches relegated the Houston product to special teams, and he hardly saw the field. This is a shocking turn of events considering Hayden started the first 10 games of the season.

    The Raiders originally surprised the league when general manager Reggie McKenzie decided to trade down in the 2013 NFL draft to select Hayden with the 12th overall pick. The cornerback was considered a big risk at the time because of health issues. Now, he's been on the field for a few seasons, and the Raiders might have swung and missed on another first-round pick. 

    What's Next?: Jack Del Rio's squad finally got back on track after its three-game losing skid. But this weekend's victory wasn't easy even against the lowly Titans. A far more difficult task lies ahead with the Kansas City Chiefs looming. Andy Reid's team is arguably the league's hottest at the moment after winning its past five games. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 15

12. Indianapolis Colts

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-5

    Highest Ranking: 8 (Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 22 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: With Reggie Wayne back in the building, the Indianapolis Colts wide receivers decided to put on a show even with backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck behind center. T.Y. Hilton scored a pair of touchdowns, but Donte Moncrief's performance was even more impressive. Moncrief caught eight passes for 114 yards. All eight of the catches went for first downs, including four third-down conversions. 

    "[Wayne] just told me to, 'Ball,'" Moncrief said, per Kevin Bowen of the team's official site.

    "He just wanted to see me do something. It’s been a while since he watched me play, so I just had to give him something to see."

    What's Bad?: The Indianapolis Colts cannot effectively run the ball. This is, in part, because of Frank Gore's decline. The 11-year veteran only managed 24 yards on 19 carries Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the past five games, the running back's yards per attempt steadily declined from 4.8 to 1.3 yards per carry. Of course, there is a reason behind Gore's recent performance. 

    "He's beat to crap," head coach Chuck Pagano said, per ESPN.com's Mike Wells

    Plus, the Colts continue to deal with injuries along the offensive line, and the team's depth behind Gore is suspect at best. This a team that knows it needs to effectively run the ball if it wants to make a playoff push, but it simply hasn't been able to do so on a consistent basis this season. 

    What's Next?: A consistent running game is needed because of games against teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers at night in December weather. This is exactly what the Colts will face this weekend on Sunday Night Football. Hasselbeck can only do so much within the offense, and he needs all of the pieces around him to play well for the team to succeed against the league's better squads. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 16

11. New York Jets

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Current Record: 6-5

    Highest Ranking: 10 (Schalter)

    Lowest Ranking: 18 (Freeman, Gagnon)

    What's Good?: The New York Jets' offseason centered around the signings of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine. Yet, the most impactful performer in the secondary this season has been safety Calvin Pryor. The second-year defensive back is now the intimidating presence over the middle the organization envisioned when it selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Wide receivers don't want to go over the middle against Pryor. Just ask the Miami Dolphins' Rishard Matthews. Matthews suffered multiple fractured ribs because of a hit from Pryor, according to NFL Network's Rand Getlin.

    "Hits like that...it was infectious, contagious," defensive end Sheldon Richardson said, per ESPN.com's Ohm Youngmisuk. "Guys fed off of that."

    Pryor registered seven total tackles, a tackle for loss and a defensive pass against the Dolphins.  

    What's Bad?: D'Brickashaw Ferguson has been a rock at left tackle for a long time. The New York Jets selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft and didn't need to worry about the position for the next nine years. However, his performance Sunday against the Dolphins developed into one of his worst.

    The 31-year-old blindside protector surrendered a sack, three quarterback hits and four quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Officials also called the left tackle for a pair of penalties. Ferguson has been as reliable as any left tackle in football over the course of his career, but he needs to rebound this weekend after such a poor performance. 

    What's Next?: Five AFC teams, including the Jets, currently own 6-5 records. These teams will be battling for the available wild-card spots. Each team needs to position itself to make a strong playoff push. The Jets won't have to travel very far for their next road game since they're playing at MetLife Stadium on Sunday against the New York Giants. It's a crucial game for both teams as they jockey for playoff positioning. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 17

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-5

    Highest Ranking: 7 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 12 (Tanier)

    What's Good?: Markus Wheaton exploded against the Seattle Seahawks' vaunted Legion of Boom secondary. The Oregon State product returned to the Great Northwest and put together the best game of his professional career. The former third-round pick caught nine passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. When the Seahawks tried to take away Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, Wheaton torched the defense. 

    "[Seattle] just ran a lot of two-high [safeties] to take away the outsides," Wheaton explained, per SteelersDepot.com's Alex Kozora. "The middle was wide open. Obviously, Heath [Miller] came out and made a huge impact early. When he went out of the game, I took over."

    The Steelers' trio of wide receivers can be downright deadly if Wheaton consistently makes defenses pay like he did against the Seahawks.  

    What's Bad?: Those wide receivers will likely need to deliver in the coming weeks. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a hit to the head late in the Seahawks contest, and Landry Jones needed to finish the game. The veteran quarterback is now in the league's concussion protocol. He plans to play this weekend, though. 

    "I anticipate I will be good to go for Sunday," Roethlisberger said, per SportsNews.com's Kirstie Chiappelli. "I didn't have any symptoms, just that peripheral vision and it went away 30 minutes after the game. I have played through many injuries, but the brain is not an injury you want to play with."

    The quarterback might feel he's ready, but it will be up to doctors to decide whether he's actually ready to play this weekend. If not, Jones will take over again. 

    What's Next?: The Steelers are now 6-5. The team is banged-up. The defense didn't play well against the Seahawks. And the Indianapolis Colts are next on Sunday Night Football. The entire complexion of the game will change depending on Roethlisberger's availability. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 8

9. Seattle Seahawks

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    Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 6-5

    Highest Ranking: 6 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 9 (5 voters)

    What's Good?: Quarterback Russell Wilson finally took over and controlled a game from start to finish. Wilson silenced his critics with an outstanding effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The quarterback absolutely shredded the Steelers defense for 345 passing yards and five touchdowns. He's currently on pace to set career highs in completion percentage and passing yardage. Head coach Pete Carroll explained why Wilson is playing better in recent weeks. 

    “The rhythm, since the break we had, we’ve really tried to feature a fast rhythm and making sure he’s really got a chance to get the ball out fast to keep the pressure off of the guys up front," Carroll explained, per the Seattle Times' Bob Condotta. 

    What's Bad?: Just when it looked like Wilson started to build a rapport with tight end Jimmy Graham, it all came crashing down. Specifically, Graham crashed to the ground when he injured his knee. He tore a patellar tendon, according to the team's Twitter feed, and the organization placed him on injured reserve.

    Graham may not have lived up to expectations after the Seahawks traded for him this offseason, but the All-Pro tight end was still second on the team with 49 receptions for 605 yards. Plus, his presence alone will be missed. Opponents always had to prepare for Graham and what he could do if unleashed in the Seahawks' system. Without the tight end, Seattle is now without its biggest offensive threat. 

    What's Next?: After winning two straight games, the Seahawks are finally starting to look somewhat like the team everyone expected them to be this season. How good are they really? Everyone will find out this weekend against the Minnesota Vikings. The 8-3 Vikings are stingy on defense, and the Seahawks defense better be prepared for heavy doses of Adrian Peterson. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 9

8. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Current Record: 6-5

    Highest Ranking: 6 (Schalter, Sobleski)

    Lowest Ranking: 12 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: Alex Smith hasn't gotten enough credit for what he's doing this season. His "game manager" label is so ingrained into everyone's mind that even when he's carrying the offense, his contributions are still downplayed.

    The Chiefs already lost Jamaal Charles to a season-ending injury. The team suffered two more injuries to its offensive line Sunday. And the offense basically featured the team's fourth running back. Yet Smith continues to make plays. During the team's recent five-game winning streak, the quarterback completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns.

    More importantly, Smith hasn't thrown an interception since Week 3. And his 7.57 yards per attempt is his highest average since being traded to the Chiefs. Game manager or not, Smith continues to play at a high level. 

    What's Bad?: Injuries are an issue for every team. Multiple key performers from around the league went down this weekend. The Chiefs suffered a blow to their defense when outside linebacker Justin Houston injured his left knee. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Houston suffered a PCL sprain. Houston's status for this weekend's game has yet to be determined. He could miss time, which would weaken a strong Chiefs defense. Houston is one of the game's premier pass-rushers. With him out of the lineup, fellow outside linebacker Tamba Hali and the secondary would need to fill the void. 

    What's Next?: After the Chiefs entered uncharted territory for head coach Andy Reid with a 1-5 start, no team has been better than Kansas City in the last five weeks. The Chiefs reeled off five straight wins, and they're now a favorite to claim a playoff spot. However, the team must play the rival Oakland Raiders twice in the next five weeks. How the Chiefs handle a trip to Oakland in a game they're expected to win should be telling for the rest of the regular season. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 11

7. Green Bay Packers

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 7-4

    Highest Ranking: 5 (Freeman)

    Lowest Ranking: 11 (Schalter)

    What's Good?: Over the last two weeks, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy finally returned to form. His Thanksgiving performance was especially encouraging. The Alabama product ran the ball 17 times for 105 yards. Despite his up-and-down season, Lacy took it all in stride. 

    "I think my season has been a bit of a roller-coaster. [But] it’s starting to level out," Lacy said, per ESPN.com's Jason Wilde

    "I’ve been pretty even-keeled through the whole thing. I just think it shows you that not every year or not every season is going to go the way that you want it to, but I think it’s all about how you respond to adversity."

    After two consecutive 100-yard performances, Lacy once again took over as the team's lead back. He leads the squad with 513 yards on 122 carries. 

    What's Bad?: Davante Adams became quarterback Aaron Rodgers' top target by default. James Jones hasn't been the same player in recent weeks. Adams, meanwhile, continues to be targeted at an alarming rate. In the past four games, the second-year receiver has been targeted a whopping 47 times. The problem is his catch percentage is only 46.8 percent. Rogers might be targeting him often, but he hasn't been a reliable option. The rest of the team's wide receiver corps must start creating separation, because Adams clearly can't be the team's No. 1 option. 

    What's Next?: The Packers lost four of their last five games. On the other side of the spectrum, the Detroit Lions won their last three games. These two teams meet on Thursday Night Football this week. Another Green Bay loss could endanger a potential playoff run. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 5

6. Minnesota Vikings

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Current Record: 8-3

    Highest Ranking: 5 (Gagnon)

    Lowest Ranking: 8 (Tanier)

    What's Good?: Anthony Barr's maturation this season into a complete linebacker warrants the Minnesota Vikings' usage of a top-10 draft pick last year on the UCLA product. Barr came into the league as a developing prospect who only played linebacker two seasons after converting from running back.

    But he had all of the tools necessary to excel at the position. He is long, lean and tenacious as a pass-rusher. Barr continued to show flashes, but the entire package didn't always show up for the Vikings. Sunday's performance was the most complete of his career. The second-year defender registered eight total tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a deflected pass and two forced fumbles. Whether he's dropping into space, defending the run or getting after the quarterback, Barr can do it all, even with a broken hand

    What's Bad?: For the third time this season, wide receiver Mike Wallace went without a catch. This is even more concerning since it happened for the second straight week. In fact, the veteran pass-catcher was even targeted (technically, he was but drew a pass interference call). Each week, the lack of impact from the team's wide receiver corps becomes more and more troublesome. This past weekend, four of the team's top five receivers were either tight ends or running backs. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater needs more help from those who operate outside the hashes. 

    What's Next?: At 8-3, the Vikings are firmly entrenched as the NFC's third-best team (behind the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals). This weekend's matchup, though, will be quite difficult. The Seattle Seahawks come to town, and they just put together their best offensive effort of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This will be a real test for the Vikings. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 7

5. Denver Broncos

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Current Record: 9-2

    Highest Ranking: 3 (Tomlinson)

    Lowest Ranking: 8 (Freeman)

    What's Good?: While the zone-running game is a staple of Gary Kubiak's offensive scheme, the Denver Broncos struggled to run the ball most of this season. This was due, in part, to Peyton Manning not being an ideal fit for the system. The veteran signal-caller struggled with handoffs for the zone stretch and the bootleg action off those run plays.

    Brock Osweiler, though, is a much better fit for this offense. And it showed in the running game. C.J. Anderson finally looked like the back who became the team's stater for the final six games of last season. Anderson ran for 113 yards against the New England Patriots, including the 48-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime. 

    What's Bad?: T.J. Ward has proved to be a difference-maker at safety since he signed with the Broncos a year ago. He makes plays against the run and pass, and he gets after the quarterback. Ward injured an ankle Sunday night, though, and he was seen in a walking boot and using crutches early this week, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. Ward didn't sound like a player ready to return anytime soon when asked about the injury after the game. 

    "It's painful, but I'm optimistic I’m coming back," Ward said Sunday, per Andrew Mason of the team's website.

    If Ward misses any time, David Bruton will move into the starting lineup. 

    What's Next?: The Broncos were the first team to knock off the Patriots this season. It's a gigantic step in the right direction for Denver, particularly with Osweiler at quarterback. The team has now won two games in a row with the fourth-year quarterback. After beating Tom Brady, the Arizona State product's next goal is to match and beat Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 6

4. Cincinnati Bengals

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    John Grieshop/Getty Images

    Current Record: 9-2

    Highest Ranking: 3 (Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 5 (Miller, Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: It's not easy to stop Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green or block defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The St. Louis Rams decided they wouldn't do either this past weekend. Green caught six passes for 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns. At one point, Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins decided not to cover Green in the end zone, and the wide receiver, of course, caught an easy touchdown pass.

    Atkins, meanwhile, dominated a depleted Rams offensive line. The interior defender registered three tackles for loss, a sack and three more quarterback hits. In fact, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants his defensive tackle mentioned among those deserving of Defensive Player of the Year honors. 

    "Maybe we haven't talked about it enough, but I said earlier in the season he should be in that conversation," Guenther said, per ESPN.com's Coley Harvey. "He's done nothing not to be in there."

    What's Bad?: While Giovani Bernard is an important part of the Bengals offense, his performance Sunday won't be counted among his best. Yes, the running back caught a pair of passes for 51 yards, but his effort in the running game was far below standard. Bernard carried the ball 10 times for only 16 yards. His average of 1.6 yards per carry was the second worst of his career. Plus, the North Carolina product also fumbled the ball (which was recovered by Tyler Eifert). 

    What's Next?: As the Bengals prepare to win the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns can once again be found in the division's basement. When these teams met a month ago on Thursday Night Football, the Bengals won by three scores, 31-10. While the Browns deal with another quarterback controversy, Cincinnati will be prepared for another victory. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 4

3. Arizona Cardinals

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Current Record: 9-2

    Highest Ranking: 3 (6 voters)  

    Lowest Ranking: 4 (Tanier, Tomlinson)

    What's Good?: The Arizona Cardinals defense is loaded with talent. Tyrann Mathieu, aka the Honey Badger, brings name recognition. Patrick Peterson provides star power. Deone Bucannon is a former first-round pick. And Calais Campbell provides a massive Pro Bowl presence along the front line. Tony Jefferson doesn't receive enough attention as a versatile defender who does many things within the team's scheme. The third-year pro continues to improve and started two of the last three games. Against the San Francisco 49ers, Jefferson was all over the field. The safety registered six total tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and another quarterback hit. Mathieu continues to make play after play, but Jefferson is also proving to be a nice complementary piece. 

    What's Bad?: While the Cardinals defense certainly is talented, the team struggled to cover the 49ers tight ends this past weekend. Vance McDonald and Blake Bell combined to make nine receptions for 138 yards. Also, the offense experienced a few issues when San Francisco took away the deep pass from quarterback Carson Palmer. The offense grew stagnant as a result. The concern is the 49ers provided a blueprint to slow the Cardinals this season even though San Francisco ultimately lost. Teams with a strong defense that are also capable of exploiting mismatches with their tight ends could prove a difficult matchup through the rest of the regular season and into the postseason. 

    What's Next?: The St. Louis Rams already surprised the Cardinals by defeating them earlier in the season. But Jeff Fisher's squad is currently reeling. The team's quarterback play has been atrocious, and the offensive line is being held together by duct tape. St. Louis hasn't score more than 18 points in over a month, while Arizona has eclipsed that total in all but one game this season. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 3

2. New England Patriots

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Current Record: 10-1

    Highest Ranking: 1 (Tanier)

    Lowest Ranking: 2 (7 voters)

    What's Good?: "Wow, the New England Patriots lose in overtime on the road in the snow to a fellow contender at altitude on a short week of rest and suddenly everyone's got the Carolina Panthers No. 1. I get it: No one wants emails and tweets that read How can you rank an undefeated team below a team that just lost? except for me. So...what do you think the line would be on a Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl right now? Or, putting it another way, how many points would you need to take the Panthers? At least a field goal, right? I'll stack 15 years of dominance and 10 wins against a sudden emergence and 11 wins every single time, thank you very much." —Mike Tanier

    What's Bad?: The injuries are piling up throughout the roster. After losing Julian Edelman to a broken foot and Danny Amendola missing a game because of an injured knee, the next-to-last person the Patriots couldn't afford to lose was tight end Rob Gronkowski.

    What happened? Gronkowski got hurt. But the injury wasn't as bad as it originally appeared to be. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the tight end suffered a "minor knee strain" and should return in a "week or two most likely." The Patriots still have to deal with the fact four of their top weapons will miss time this season, whether it's for a long period such as Dion Lewis and Edelman or a shorter experience such as Amendola and Gronkowski. 

    What's Next?: Even without the team's full allotment of offensive weapons, the Patriots should be able to score plenty this weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly's squad surrendered 90 points over the last two weeks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jameis Winston and Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford combined to throw for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions over that period. Tom Brady should be salivating as he prepares to face the Eagles defense. 

    Last Week's Ranking: 1

1. Carolina Panthers

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Current Record: 11-0

    Highest Ranking: 1 (7 voters)

    Lowest Ranking: 2 (Tanier)

    What's Good?: Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers finally high-stepped their way to the No. 1 overall ranking simply by staying undefeated.

    With all of the discussion surrounding the quarterback and the team's overall success, there are points when everyone forgets just how good middle linebacker Luke Kuechly really is. So, the two-time First-Team All-Pro provided a memorable performance on Thanksgiving Day.

    On consecutive plays, Kuechly intercepted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. They weren't exactly gift-wrapped interceptions either. The linebacker looked like a tight end plucking the ball out of the air. The first he returned for a touchdown. The second set up the offense for a field goal. By that point, the Panthers had built a commanding 23-3 lead. Newton may draw all of the attention, but Kuechly is the team's best player. 

    "He's one of those special inside guys," defensive end Jared Allen said, per ESPN.com's David Newton. "Obviously, you can't take anything away from Ray Lewis and [Brian] Urlacher and guys like that. But the way Luke's going right now he's definitely putting himself in that level."

    What's Bad?: The Panthers signed formerly retired cornerback Cortland Finnegan this week. The move itself isn't a bad thing; Finnegan is another veteran presence added to the team's rotation. However, the need to sign a street free agent at this point in the season is slightly concerning. The Panthers still aren't sure if Charles Tillman will be ready this week after sitting out the previous two games with a knee injury. Tillman wants to play, but his coaches remain cautious. Finnegan will initially be used as a nickel cornerback. 

    "We’ll start [Cortland] off inside and see how it goes," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said, per the team's official site. "It's a day by day thing at this point. Just want to make sure he is up to speed on what we're doing and take it one step at a time."

    What's Next?: As the Panthers continue to roll, the rival New Orleans Saints are on the verge of implosion. Ron Rivera's squad travels to the Big Easy this weekend with a chance to improve to 12-0 and potentially seal the fate of Saints head coach Sean Payton.  

    Last Week's Ranking: 2

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