It’s the week after Thanksgiving, and with the Turducken and stuffing packed away, we are heading into the meat and potatoes of the NFL regular season. After an interesting week of games that further shape the potential playoff pool, who ascended this week’s Power Rankings, and who feel flat? Let’s find out:
1. New England Patriots (8-3) – Last Week: 6
While this may have been against a struggling Jets team, Tom Terrific (323 yards, 3 TDs) and Co. did annihilate a division rival on Thanksgiving – for head coach Bill Belichick’s 200th win, no less. And it’s hard to think that anyone can slow down this offense right now. It will definitely be hard to believe that Miami, who had just snapped a three-game losing streak, will be able to do so in Week 13.
2. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1) – Last Week: 3
The Niners’ rematch of their epic Divisional Playoff matchup last year wasn’t quite as dramatic, and did involve a different starting QB (Colin Kaeperkick). But it did yield the same result – a San Francisco victory. Two interception returns for TDs by Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner helped seal the win, and seemed to have righted the ship two weeks after their infamous tie against St. Louis. But don’t look now – they’re playing the Rams again next week.
3. Denver Broncos (8-3) – Last Week: 4
Sure, they were playing the lowly Chiefs, but a sixth straight win is impressive by any stretch. For QB Peyton Manning’s 149th victory as a starting signal-caller in the NFL, he threw for 2 TDs to stave off upset-minded KC. It isn’t hard to believe, at this point, that a loss is unlikely for the Broncos moving forward – Baltimore looks to be their most challenging opponent on the remainder of a schedule that features three games against sub-.500 teams (@ OAK, vs. CLE, vs. KC).
4. Atlanta Falcons (10-1) – Last Week: 5
It wasn’t easy for the Falcons to dispatch the Bucs in a back-and-forth effort, but they managed to hold off Tampa Bay’s offense after a late touchdown run by Michael Turner for a league-best tenth win of the season. QB Matt Ryan hit the 300-yard mark (353 passing yards vs. TB) for the fourth straight game, and will need that passing firepower when the Falcons face the team that has given them their only loss thus far this season: the Saints, at home, next week.
5. Baltimore Ravens (9-2) – Last Week: 1
Despite struggling against the a sub-par Chargers team late into the fourth quarter (trailing 3-13), the Ravens found their bearings and scored 10 straight points to force overtime, and scored their fourth straight win. Eking out victories may not be ideal for the Ravens, who currently have the inside track for a potential first-round bye in the playoffs, but as long as RB Ray Rice (97 yards rushing) and the defense remain productive, it won’t matter how they win.
6. Houston Texans (10-1) – Last Week: 2
It’s hard to drop a team that’s coming off of a win down in the standings – but, then again, they were taken to overtime by a sub-par Lions team that had only won four games this season, while allowing 31 points and gifted a chance to win, off of a Jim Schwartz coaching miscue. With only one loss on the season, and RB Arian Foster (102 yards, 2 TDs) reaching his peak at just the right time, they have a real chance of wrapping up home-field advantage in the coming weeks.
7. Chicago Bears (8-3) – Last Week: 8
A week after a humiliating loss to the 49ers, the Bears got back QB Jay Cutler, got back to winning in a victory over the struggling Vikings, and got back to … losing more weapons, as Devin Hester, Matt Forte and Charles Tillman were all lost to injuries. Their victory, while giving them the outright division lead, was costly, to say the least. With Seattle coming to town next week, it will be interesting to see how they will be able to handle the injuries.
8. New York Giants (7-4) – Last Week: 10
A win over the a streaking Packers team was just what the doctor ordered, coming off their bye week and a two-game losing streak. QB Eli Manning looked like his playoff-winning self against an impressive Green Bay secondary (249 yards, 3 TDs), and shut down their offense for most of the night. With another date against RGIII and the Redskins looming, they looked primed to take the NFC East, and make another postseason run.
9. Indianapolis Colts (7-4) – Last Week: 12
It was the T.Y. Hilton show on Sunday against the Bills, who had the game of his young career in front of the Indianapolis crowd – including ailing head coach Chuck Pagano, who was in the stadium to witness it himself. His 75-yard punt return TD and 5-yard TD catch from QB Andrew Luck were all they needed to give the Colts their seventh victory – a victory that, by the way, tied Luck with Sam Bradford in 2010 for most victories in his rookie season as a full-time starting QB.
10. Green Bay Packers (7-4) – Last Week: 7
QB Aaron Rodgers looked like he could no wrong over the past month and a half – that is, until he was emphatically shut down by the New York Giants on Sunday night. A defense without mainstays Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson didn’t help their cause, and the subsequent blowout knocked them out of a tie with Chicago for the NFC North lead. They will now have to regain their bearings against a Vikings team that has struggled as of late.
11. Seattle Seahawks (6-5) – Last Week: 9
Despite holding a touchdown lead, their defense could not hold it, and gave up 10 points in less than eight minutes. In any case, rookie QB Russell Wilson has continued his consistent production, with 224 passing yards and 2 TDs in the losing effort. Though, he didn’t get help much of anywhere else. After a loss to the sub-.500 club, the ‘Hawks will have to avoid their own .500 fate against a good – but ailing – Bears team in Chicago.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) – Last Week: 14
The Bucs were eight minutes away from giving their division rivals a second loss to their season – until they allowed a late TD run to snap their own four-game winning streak. On the bright side, RB Doug Martin continued his production with two TDs on the ground, and will need that same running prowess against the red-hot Broncos at Mile High on Sunday, and without CB Eric Wright, suspended four games for PED violations.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) – Last Week: 11
A funny thing happened to the Steelers on their way to a potential seventh win to their season – forced to start QB Charlie Batch with Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich ailing, the Steelers could not overcome his 3 INTs en route to a humiliating loss. They failed to score after a Charles Rainey TD run late in the second quarter, and despite winning the total yards battle (242 to 238), gave up the winning score in the third quarter. Their margin of error is now minuscule – especially with a date with the Ravens in Baltimore looming.
14. New Orleans Saints (5-6) – Last Week: 13
It could have been poetic justice to beat the 49ers at home, to stay in the playoff hunt, but alas, they could not beat a team led by a QB in Colin Kaepernick continuing to flourish under his new starting offense. The fact that the offense allowed two interceptions run back for touchdowns, and , and five sacks allowed on QB Drew Brees, didn’t help things, either. With their postseason hopes dwindling fast, they have little time to recover to face off against division nemesis Atlanta.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) – Last Week: 19
Needing to get back above .500 and keep up with Pittsburgh in the AFC North for a possible wild card spot, the Raiders were just what the doctor ordered. QB Andy Dalton threw for 210 yards and 3 TDs in a rout that was basically over by halftime. It was a rude welcome back for former QB Carson Palmer, whom the Cincinnati defense roughed up for four sacks and a forced fumble. Can they keep up this production next week in San Diego?
16. Miami Dolphins (5-6) – Last Week: 21
The Dolphins used a productive day from QB Ryan Tannehill (253 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and RB Reggie Bush (87 rushing yards, 1 TD) to dispatch of the Seahawks. Their rally in the fourth quarter showed promise for a team teetering at the .500 mark for most of the season. It is unclear, however, how they will respond for their next two games, against arguably two of the best teams in the league – division rival New England, and San Francisco.
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-5) – Last Week: 15
Despite RB Adrian Peterson’s continued production on the ground (108 rushing yards on 18 carries), it was not the way the Vikes wanted to come off their bye week. They were dominated in time of possession (22:30 to 37:30), and QB Christian Ponder has continued to accrue only meager numbers (159 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT vs. CHI). With three of their final five games against division foes (two vs. GB), they will need to find options beyond Peterson in order to see themselves in the playoff hunt.
18. Dallas Cowboys (5-6) – Last Week: 18
With the weeks dwindling, a loss to division rival Washington on Thanksgiving, to once again fall under .500, was the last thing dem Cowboys needed. Despite QB Tony Romo’s 441 yards and 3 TDs through the air, he was trumped by rookie sensation Robert Griffin III, whose offense scored 28 straight points in the second quarter. Their running game was non-existent (35 total yards on the ground), and the defense chose a bad time to lay an egg at home. They shouldn’t be expected to do the same thing against the struggling Eagles next week. Can they?
19. Detroit Lions (4-7) – Last Week: 16
Thanks to a bonehead move by their head coach, the Lions failed to pull off a Thanksgiving day upset against the Texans. That said, QB Matthew Stafford did throw for 441 yards and 2 TDs against one of the league’s best defensive backfields. And, with WR Calvin Johnson’s 140 yards receiving, his 1,257 yards through 11 games is on pace to break Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season. At this point, that may be all the Lions have to play for.
20. Washington Redskins (5-6) – Last Week: 24
RGIII and the ‘Skins got a much-needed win against division-rival Dallas to keep themselves in the hunt for a potential playoff spot. He certainly piled it on in the second quarter, with TD passes to WRs Pierre Garcon, Aldrick Robinson and Santana Moss. With two division victories following the bye (and a three-game losing streak), the third team of their NFC East gauntlet – the New York Giants – will prove to be their biggest test yet, and could give them a share of the division lead, with a win next week.
21. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1) – Last Week: 25
QB Sam Bradford (205 passing yards, 2 TDs) and the defense (2 INT returns for TDs by CB Janoris Jenkins) looked impressive in their victory over the Cardinals – their first since they last beat Arizona in Week 5. Tack on 139 rushing yards by RB Steven Jackson, and the Rams are seemingly back on track to make a little noise within the division. The only problem is next week’s opponent – San Francisco. Though, they did tie the last time they met, so anything is possible next week.
22. Buffalo Bills (4-7) – Last Week: 20
To be fair, it was tough to go into an emotional situation like the one Buffalo walked into on Sunday – an opposing head coach battling cancer, a community undying in its passion and support, and a team playing for said head coach. On the bright side, RB C.J. Spiller rushed for over 100 yards, and DE Mario Williams sacked Andrew Luck three times in the defeat – their fourth in five games. Perhaps a respite is ahead, as they face off against the two-win Jags next week.
23. Cleveland Browns (3-8) – Last Week: 29
It was truly an impressive feat to force 8 turnovers on the Steelers’ offense – even though it was against their third-string QB. In any case, the Browns got a rare victory over an AFC North rival, on the strength of RB Trent Richardson (85 rushing yards, 1 TD) and that rare defensive effort. It was a rare victory to savor – though they could experience their first winning streak of the season should they win against the struggling Raiders next week.
24. Arizona Cardinals (4-7) – Last Week: 17
The Cards’ freefall continues, with seemingly no end in sight, as they lost to the sub-.500 Rams on Sunday. Despite winning the total yards battle, they could not overcome two INT returns for TDs, and were kept scoreless in the second half. It seems that they cannot find a QB to keep in the starting lineup, as Ryan Lindley failed to produce against the Rams (0 TDs, 4 INTs) despite throwing for over 300 yards. Perhaps the struggling Jets could be just what they need to break this massive losing streak.
25. San Diego Chargers (4-7) – Last Week: 26
Despite holding down the Ravens to three points all game long, the Chargers still couldn’t get a win to stay within range of a potential playoff spot, ultimately falling in OT. San Diego did themselves in when they could not hold the Ray Rice back on a 4th-and-29 play with 1:37 left in the game, and a three-point lead. It’s been that kind of year for the Chargers, now 1-4 since the bye. With two games against the AFC North ahead, it’s hard to tell when the slide will end.
26. Tennessee Titans (4-7) – Last Week: 22
The offense was highly ineffective against one of the league’s worst defensive units, getting their only touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and QB Jake Locker throwing 2 INTs. And, despite getting to the quarterback (7 sacks for 40 yards lost), the defense could not hold back a Jaguars attack that led for most of the game. It was an all-around disappointing performance, especially coming off a bye week. Can they possibly bounce back next week against a hot Texans team?
27. Carolina Panthers (3-8) – Last Week: 30
QB Cam Newton shined on Monday night – much like he did during his stellar rookie campaign. His two TDs on the ground (on 52 rush yds) supplemented his 306 yards and 2 TDs through the air, as he sliced up the struggling Philadelphia defense. It was a rare bright spot in their otherwise dulled season, and with last-place Kansas City on the docket, this could have been the win they needed to salvage the rest of 2012.
28. New York Jets (4-7) – Last Week: 23
There isn’t much to say about the performance this team put up on Thanksgiving than this: butt fumble. That definitely wasn’t the way they expected to capitalize off of their first win in four games last week vs. St. Louis. So it’s back to the drawing board for the Jets, but they have two things going for them right now – they have extra time off to prepare for their next game, and their Week 13 opponent (ARI) is currently on a seven-game losing streak.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) – Last Week: 31
Not too shabby for their second win of the season – one that saw backup QB Chad Henne lead his offense in a game in which they never trailed. He threw for 261 yards and 2 TDs, in place of injured starter Blaine Gabbert, including a 59-yard bomb to WR Cecil Shorts III. And they won despite losing three defensive starters throughout the game. They can only hope to take this momentum into the coming weeks, as both Buffalo and the Jets have lost four of their last five games.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8) – Last Week: 27
The Eagles’ losing streak has now reached seven, as they lost to the lowly Panthers on Monday night. The defense allowed 30 points for the third straight game, and QB Nick Foles (119 yards, 0 TDs) couldn’t do much of anything in his second start for the ailing Michael Vick. Their lone bright spot came in the form of rookie RB Bryce Brown, who ran for 178 yards and 2 TDs in his first career start in place of LeSean McCoy (concussion). Can he continue this production in a bigger stage against the Cowboys next week?
31. Oakland Raiders (3-8) – Last Week: 28
For those of you keeping score, that is now four losses in a row – each of which the defense had given up at least 30 points. This time, it was added insult to injury, with a not-so-happy reunion between the Bengals and former QB Carson Palmer. His performance (146 yards, 2 total turnovers) was indicative of the offense against Cincy – they were almost doubled up in total yards (415 to 218), and were a paltry 3-for-12 on third down efficiency. Perhaps a date with Cleveland next week can stem the tide for the struggling Silver-and-Black.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10) – Last Week: 32
I said it once, and I’ll say it again – the Chiefs are still winless since a Week 3 victory against the rudderless Saints. You have to give them this, though – they held the lead for most of the first half, off of three Ryan Succop FGs, and ultimately held the Broncos to 17 points. Then again, that was all they could muster on offense (116 yards passing, 0 TDs) – as demonstrated, you’re not going to win many games that way. Can they get a victory against Carolina next week? Here’s hoping.