1. Houston Texans (9-1)
Last week: 1
The Texans received all they could handle from the Jaguars in last Sunday's 43-37 overtime win. Houston's defense could have been much better, but they have the high-powered offense to pick up the slack for when Wade Phillips' unit has an off-day.
2. Atlanta Falcons (9-1)
Last week: 2
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has 12 interceptions on the season, eight of which have come in (closer than they should have been) wins over the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals. As the Falcons attempt to position themselves to win their first playoff game of the otherwise wildly successful Thomas Dimitroff/Mike Smith Era, it has to be concerning that Ryan is capable of truly horrific games, at home, against inferior opponents.
3. New England Patriots (7-3)
Last week: 6
Losing Rob Gronkowski for perhaps the remainder of the regular season undoubtedly hurts, but the Patriots are fully capable of adapting and should get Aaron Hernandez back for the stretch run. With Tom Brady at quarterback, New England's offense will be fine and they'll get Gronk back in January.
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4. San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1)
Last week: 7
Colin Kaepernick's incredible performance against the Bears on Monday night has created a quarterback controversy for Jim Harbaugh, but there's no denying how good this team is right now, regardless of who's under center. According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers are No. 1 in team DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) with Top 6 rankings in both offense (2) and defense (6).
5. Denver Broncos (7-3)
Last week: 4
Losing Willis McGahee for the remainder of the season to a torn MCL in his right knee will hurt, but this offense has run through Peyton Manning and will continue to do so. Denver's offense and defense currently rank in the Top 5 in Football Outsiders' offensive and defensive DVOA rankings.
6. Green Bay Packers (7-3)
Last week: 5
The Packers had to come from behind to beat the Lions on the road, but it's important to remember that this team is playing without Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and all three of their first-round picks from the last three drafts (Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod and Nick Perry). If they can overcome those losses, they should be able to overcome an inconsistent kicker.
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
Last week: 8
It was hardly a brilliant offensive showing by Joe Flacco & Co., but Sunday night's win over the Steelers allowed the Ravens to open up a commanding 2 ½-game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The Ravens got more good news during the week when Ed Reed's one-game suspension for repeated hits on defenseless players was lifted upon appeal. That suspension would have removed one of the Ravens' best players from the field and cost him $423,529 in lost income. That's a steep penalty for three bad plays among the 2,400 defensive snaps Reed has logged over the last three seasons.
8. Chicago Bears (7-3)
Last week: 3
Jay Cutler for MVP? Not quite, but it's apparent that the $3.5 million the Bears spent to sign Jason Campbell this offseason to provide the club with a quality backup would have been wisely spent improving the five guys that protect the quarterback.
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Last week: 10
The Seahawks return from their bye week with back-to-back road games against two teams (Miami, Chicago) that were pushed around by their Week 11 opponents. In previous seasons, it would be unfathomable for a Seahawks team to travel east and win a 1 p.m. ET game. In 2011, they went on the road and beat the Giants and Bears and this Seahawks team is much improved over a season ago. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks are currently the only NFL team to have its offense, defense and special teams rank in the Top 10 in DVOA.
10. New York Giants (6-4)
Last week: 10
Coming off a much-needed bye week, the Giants hold firm in the 10 spot in our power rankings, but will need to play better in the passing game to stave off teams like the Saints and Buccaneers. Four of the Giants' final six games are against playoff-caliber opponents, beginning this Sunday with the Packers.
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
Last week: 12
A four-game winning streak has the Buccaneers very much in the NFC playoff picture, but the schedule gets much tougher down the stretch. Two games with the Falcons and road games against the Brocnos and Saints will determine whether or not this team is for real.
12. New Orleans Saints (5-5)
Last week: 13
Once 0-4, the Saints have clawed back to .500 and are within striking distance of a spot in the NFC playoffs. We remain concerned about a defense that has yet to hold an opponent under 400 yards of total offense, though.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
Last week: 11
The Steelers are down to Charlie Batch at quarterback, with newly signed Brian Hoyer a play away from being called upon to save the season. Ben Roethlisberger should return this season, but Sunday's game against the Browns has gone from "should win" to "must win" if Pittsburgh hopes to make the playoffs.
14. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
Last week: 17
Dallas needed overtime to get by the Browns, but remain alive in the NFC East and NFC playoff picture with back-to-back home games against sub-.500 teams within their own division next on the schedule.
15. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
Last week: 15
Adrian Peterson was able to rest his left ankle during the bye week but likely will not be 100 percent as Minnesota enters the most critical part of its schedule. Sitting one game behind both the Bears and Packers, the Vikings play both teams on the road before returning home to host Chicago on Dec. 9.
16. Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
Last week: 14
A quick glance at the schedule shows four very winnable games among the six that remain on their schedule. And if you think a 59-24 loss at New England disqualifies teams from playing in January, may I present the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, who lost 47-7 to the Patriots in Foxborough on Dec. 21, 2008 only to come within a minute of winning Super Bowl XLIII. We're not saying the Colts will be in the Super Bowl this season, just pointing out that they could still make the playoffs and not be in over their heads.
17. Detroit Lions (4-6)
Last week: 16
At 4-6 on the season, and 0-4 within the NFC North, it's safe to assume that the Lions will not be making a return trip to the postseason. Detroit's schedule is quite difficult the rest of the way and avoiding a double-digit-loss season may be necessary to keep this coaching staff intact. Jim Schwartz is safe, but so should Scott Linehan, which may chagrin many Lions fans. However, the fact remains this offense ranks sixth in Football Outsiders DVOA and Matthew Stafford has blossomed in Linehan's offense. If the Lions can improve the back seven of their defense and their special teams units, they'll be back in the playoff hunt in 2013.
18. Washington Redskins (4-6)
Last week: 20
Robert Griffin was the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week, going 14 of 15 for 200 yards and four touchdowns with 84 yards rushing in shredding the Eagles defense in Week 11. Griffin — who now ranks fifth in the NFL in passer rating (101.0) and is 19th in rushing yards (613), outgaining the likes of Steven Jackson, Michael Turner and Reggie Bush — is the reason why it's far too early to write off the Redskins in the playoff race.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
Last week: 21
Look out, Pittsburgh. The Bengals have won back-to-back games by a combined score of 59-19 and their schedule lays out perfectly for them to be 9-5 when they visit the Steelers on Dec. 23.
20. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
Last week: 18
Since their 2-0 start, the Chargers have lost six of their last eight games. The only team the Chargers have beaten since the middle of September is the Chiefs, who may be interviewing the same general manager and head coaching candidates the Spanos family is looking to hire in January.
21. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
Last week: 19
A three-game losing streak has pretty much ended any talk of the Dolphins making an improbable appearance in the playoffs in Joe Philbin's first season and with upcoming games against the Seahawks, Patriots and 49ers, the Dolphins are likely to hold a Top 10 pick in the 2013 draft. They have their quarterback, and are in need of a play-maker at the receiver position, but may also have holes at left tackle and cornerback with Jake Long and Sean Smith scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in March. With around $7 million in cap space remaining, Jeff Ireland may want to check one of those items off his 2013 to-do list.
22. Arizona Cardinals (4-6)
Last week: 23
The Cardinals' defense ranks fourth in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA metric and was certainly good enough to beat the high-powered Falcons even without Calais Campbell. Unfortunately, the Cardinals have no quarterback, running game or offensive line, and they lost a sixth straight game as head coach Ken Whisenhunt changed quarterbacks (out with John Skelton, in with rookie Ryan Lindley) with a 10-point lead. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will be a hot candidate for head-coaching vacancies in 2013.
23. Buffalo Bills (4-6)
Last week: 24
Special teams and a rare solid effort from the defense helped the Bills end a three-game losing streak last Thursday night against the Dolphins, but the damage may already be done. Even with some favorable matchups down the stretch, 8-8 is the far more likely result for the 2012 Bills, which would be their first non-losing season since 2004.
24. New York Jets (4-6)
Last week: 27
Team Dysfunction won the "Schotty Bowl" and get the Gronkless Patriots at home on a short week. If they can somehow pull off an upset, they could quite possibly run the table — home against the Cardinals, at the Jaguars and Titans, home against the Chargers and Bills — and finish 10-6. Of course, they could lose to New England, drop a couple of those games against those beatable teams and finish 5-11 or 6-10, which would likely result in the dismissals of Mike Tannenbaum and Tony Sparano. Jets fans must be torn.
25. St. Louis Rams (3-6-1)
Last week: 22
How does a team go on the road and play the 49ers to a 24-24 tie, a game they easily could have won, only to come home and gets spanked by the JETS? The Rams have not won a game since going over .500 with a 17-3 win over the Cardinals on Oct. 4, a drought that could end when they go on the road to face the Cardinals on Sunday.
26. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
Last week: 26
Two of their final six games are against the Jaguars, so it's understandable why head coach Mike Munchak says that now is the time for the Titans to make their move:
"We have six games left, and there is nothing we can do about the past. Let's get on a run," Munchak said as the team returned from its bye. "You always hear about teams in November and December, where they make their move…So this is our opportunity to be that team."
Making the playoffs would be an incredible turnaround for the Titans, but developing Jake Locker has to be the primary focus for the remainder of the season.
27. Cleveland Browns (2-8)
Last week: 28
Three of the Browns' eight losses have been by four points or less, including last Sunday's 23-20 overtime road loss to the Cowboys. Changes are coming to the Browns organization, but there is talent on the roster, which is why new owner Jimmy Haslam should think twice about changing GMs this offseason. Tom Heckert is doing a great job and deserves to stay.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7)
Last week: 25
A 25-point loss to the Redskins in Week 11 extended the Eagles losing streak to six games but did not cost Andy Reid his job. The team's senior vice president of communications absolutely had to go, but not Reid, even though the team would have an additional day of preparations before Monday night's home game against the Panthers. Instead of bringing Reid's tenure in Philadelphia to a merciful end, the Eagles will let their fans' displeasure with the team be heard on "Monday Night Football," as ESPN cameras pick up (and quickly cut away from) "Fire Reid" signs while Jon Gruden speaks glowingly about his former colleague.
29. Carolina Panthers (2-8)
Last week: 30
Ron Rivera is expected to coach for the remainder of the season, but blowing an 11-point lead in the final six minutes at home to the Buccaneers couldn't have been good for long-term job security in Charlotte. Surprisingly, the two-win Panthers rank 19th in Football Outsiders' team DVOA metric but have the league's 31st-ranked special teams unit. That phase of the game for the Panthers received another shake up when the club swapped kickers this week, waiving Justin Medlock and signing Graham Gano.
30. Oakland Raiders (3-7)
Last week: 29
Once 3-4 in the first season under Dennis Allen, the Raiders have dropped three straight by a combined score of 135-69. In the process, owner Mark Davis has become embarrassed by the lack of progress, but it appears as though Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie are safe:
"Like I say, I'm patient. I'm patient," Davis said following last Sunday's 38-17 loss to the Saints. "But I want to see progress. I don't want to see regression. Nobody does. And that's why I'm unhappy today. But as far as a pass, I wouldn't call it a pass. They've got contracts; they're going to be here."
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)
Last week: 32
Blaine Gabbert's second season in the National Football League will go down as being more disappointing than his rookie season as the Jaguars placed the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft on injured reserve on Thursday. Gabbert injured his right elbow in the first quarter of last Sunday's 43-37 overtime loss to the Texans. Chad Henne came in to pass for 354 yards and four touchdowns and had already been named the starter for this week's game against the Titans by head coach Mike Mularkey.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-9)
Last week: 31
The Chiefs were blown out to the tune of 28-6 at home to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11 and fan groups have paid to have an airplane fly over Arrowhead Stadium carrying a banner imploring owner Clark Hunt to fire Scott Pioli, and a playoff win drought that extends back to 1994 was cited in the obituary of a recently deceased Chiefs fan. If the season continues the way it is going, Kansas City's next general manager will be in prime position to add the quarterback this franchise desperately needs.
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