1. Houston Texans (10-1)
Last week: 1
The Texans benefited from some shoddy officiating (Justin Forsett was clearly down on an 81-yard touchdown run) and a soon-to-be changed NFL rule (review of the play was negated when Lions head coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag on a scoring play) in their 34-31 overtime win over the Lions last Thursday. Still, at 10-1, the Texans remain the league's top team, even with a special teams unit that ranks 32nd in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. Houston can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Titans or a combination of losses or ties by the Dolphins, Steelers and/or Bengals on Sunday.
2. Atlanta Falcons (10-1)
Last week: 2
It wasn't pretty, but the Falcons improved to 10-1 with a 24-23 win on the road against the upstart Buccaneers last Sunday. One key to the win was the healthy return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who had missed the three previous games with a sprained ankle. During Weatherspoon's absence, the Falcons allowed 117 rushing yards per game. Weatherspoon and Co. limited Doug Martin and the Bucs to just 50 rushing yards on 21 attempts. The Falcons can clinch the NFC South this week with a win and loss or tie by the Buccaneers.
3. New England Patriots (8-3)
Last week: 3
New England scored on offense, defense and special teams in a 52-second stretch of last Thursday night's 49-19 thumping of the Jets. The Patriots are now No. 2 in Football Outsiders' team DVOA and have one of the 12 best DVOAs in the history of the metric, which looks as far back as 1991. The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday.
4. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1)
Last week: 4
All Colin Kaepernick has done in his first two NFL starts is go 32 of 48 for 474 yards with three touchdowns and one interception with 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground in helping the 49ers beat the Bears (and their opportunistic defense) on "Monday Night Football" before going on the road and leading the team to a win over the red-hot Saints. Jim Harbaugh has been coy about who his starting quarterback is, but we all know that it's Kaepernick.
5. Denver Broncos (8-3)
Last week: 5
Denver scored a season-low 17 points in Week 12, but that was enough to beat the lowly Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos defense doesn't get enough credit for the team's 8-3 mark, but that unit ranks fifth in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and leads the NFL with 37 sacks. Denver can clinch the AFC West with a win over the Buccaneers on Sunday.
6. Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
Last week: 7
For the second consecutive week, the Ravens went on the road and did just enough to win, beating the Chargers 16-13 in overtime, needing to convert a remarkable fourth-and-29 play just to give them an opportunity to force the extra period. The Ravens have now won four straight, eight of their last nine and can clinch the AFC North with a win over the Steelers on Sunday and a loss by the Bengals. The Ravens can punch their playoff ticket with a win.
7. New York Giants (7-4)
Last week: 10
A struggling passing game and back-to-back losses before their bye week caused the Giants to slide down our power rankings, but they received a post-bye bounce with a 38-10 trouncing of the Packers on Sunday night. The convincing win over Green Bay couldn't have come at a better time as four of the Giants' final five games are against the Redskins, Saints, Falcons and Ravens.
8. Green Bay Packers (7-4)
Last week: 6
Playing without Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews (and Nick Perry) and Charles Woodson and with a reshuffled offensive line that is without a pair of first-round offensive tackles (Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod) may have finally caught up with the Packers, but there's no reason to panic. The Packers still rank in the Top 10 in Football Outsiders' team DVOA metric and will play three of their last five games at Lambeau Field.
9. Chicago Bears (8-3)
Last week: 8
According to Football Outsiders, the Bears rank 26th in offense, but are No. 1 in the NFL in defense and are third in special teams. The offense's struggles can be traced to an offensive line that ranks 32th in "Adjusted Sack Rate" and signed Andre Gurode to help an interior of the line that lost Chilo Rachal, who left the club after he was demoted, and Lance Louis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury via a cheap shot from Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.
10. Seattle Seahawks (6-5)
Last week: 9
Even with their 24-21 loss to the Dolphins, the Seahawks remain in the Top 10 in Football Outsiders' offense, defense and special teams DVOA, the only team in the NFL which can make that claim. The Seahawks face a must-win game this Sunday in Chicago as it may be the final game of the regular season for starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, who are facing four-game suspensions for violating the league's policy against performance-enhancing drugs. If the Seahawks lose both players, or even just Sherman, it will be tough for them to hang in the playoff race in the final quarter of the season.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)
Last week: 11
Even at home, there's little shame in going down to the wire against a very good Falcons team. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, their schedule gets tougher with a road game against the Broncos in the same week top cornerback Eric Wright begins his four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy, a ban that will cost Wright $1,705,882 in base salary and voids what had been full guarantees on his $7.75 million base salary in 2013.
[NFL Skinny: Week 13 preview]
12. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
Last week: 16
The Colts still rank near the bottom of the advanced metrics — their defense ranks 32nd in Football Outsiders' DVOA — but this team is still 7-4 after winning six of their last eight games following the leukemia diagnosis of head coach Chuck Pagano. If the season ended today, the Colts would be the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs and Luck & Co. would go on the road to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
13. New Orleans Saints (5-6)
Last week: 12
The Saints defense finally holds an opponent to under 400 yards of total offense, but the team's three-game winning streak comes to an end after both of Drew Brees' interceptions are returned for touchdowns. It's been that kind of season for the Saints, who remain alive in the NFC playoff picture but face a tough schedule with road games against the Falcons and Giants before closing out their slate with the Buccaneers, (at) Cowboys and Panthers.
14. Washington Redskins (5-6)
Last week: 18
Absolutely love what Andrew Luck is doing in Indianapolis, but there's no doubt that the Offensive Rookie of the Year is Robert Griffin. In three games against the NFC East, Griffin has completed 54 of 71 pass attempts for 769 yards with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and 27 rushing attempts for 202 yards. No wonder Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was left in awe of RGIII on Thanksgiving.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
Last week: 13
The Steelers have fumbled 24 times on the season, eight of which occurred in last Sunday's 20-14 loss to the Browns. In a clear example of "fumble luck," the Steelers lost seven of their 16 fumbles in the first 10 games of the season. Five of the eight balls they put on the turf on Sunday were recovered by the Browns. Facing a must-win game against the Ravens, we're not sure why head coach Mike Tomlin is choosing this week to demote Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace, two players who are not under contract for the 2013 season.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)
Last week: 19
It may have come against a then-reeling Giants team and the lowly Chiefs and Raiders, but a three-game winning streak has the Bengals at 6-5 and in the hunt for a spot in the AFC playoffs. Cincinnati also cracked the Top 10 in Football Outsiders' DVOA thanks largely to their offense and special teams.
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-5)
Last week: 15
The Vikings are clinging to life in the NFC playoffs picture, but it's not a good sign when you're 0-3 against the Bears, Seahawks and Buccaneers, three teams that you're competing with for one of the two wild-card spots. Minnesota's schedule is about to stiffen with two games against the Packers bookending dates with the Bears, Rams and Texans.
18 Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
Last week: 14
Win one, lose two. Win one, lose two. Win two and lose to the Redskins at home on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys' season-ticket package should come with Dramamine.
19. Detroit Lions (4-7)
Last week: 17
Is it safe to assume that 2013 will be a make-or-break season for Jim Schwartz? No one would doubt that he inherited a historically bad football team in 2009, or that the team dealt with significant injuries in 2012, but this roster is far too talented to be three games under .500 entering December.
20. Miami Dolphins (5-6)
Last week: 21
After two poor performances, first-round quarterback Ryan Tannehill rebounded with an 18-of-26, 253-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception performance against the Seahawks. Of course, a second Tannehill interception, this time in the end zone, was negated by a questionable "roughing the passer" penalty on Earl Thomas, allowing the Dolphins to score a key touchdown in their 24-21 win. Had that pick stood, what would the reaction in Miami be as the team gets set to face the Patriots and 49ers, two of the top teams in the league, in back-to-back weeks?
21. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1)
Last week: 25
Rams fans have to be intrigued by the potential of fourth-round wide receiver Chris Givens, who hauled in another long touchdown (37 yards) in the first 100-plus yards receiving game of his career in Sunday's 31-17 win over the Cardinals. Givens has 22 receptions after a slow start and was inactive for the 24-24 tie with the 49ers after breaking team rules, but the speedster is averaging 21.2 yards per catch and had a five-game streak where he caught one pass of at least 50 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Givens has six receptions of 30-plus yards in 43 total targets, matching the total the Rams had as a team during the 2009 season.
22. San Diego Chargers (4-7)
Last week: 20
"Fourth-and-29" says enough, but let's dig a little deeper. Among the Chargers' inactive players on Sunday was Eddie Royal, who is making $6 million this season and has 16 receptions. Also not dressing were 2009 first round linebacker Larry English and Jonas Mouton, a second-round pick in 2011 who has yet to play a single down in the NFL. Wide receiver Robert Meachem was active, but did not catch a pass on either of his two snaps and has 14 receptions to show for the $9 million the Chargers will pay him this season.
23. Buffalo Bills (4-7)
Last week: 23
It's never a good sign for an offensive-minded head coach when the team's top receiver advocates for said coach to relinquish play-calling duties, which Steve Johnson did following the Bills' 20-13 loss to the Colts on Sunday. Johnson would backtrack, claiming that all he meant was that Ryan Fitzpatrick should have the freedom to "audible a little more," presumably to get the Bills out of the poor plays that coach Chan Gailey called in the first place.
24. Arizona Cardinals (4-7)
Last week: 22
The Cardinals' losing streak has hit seven games and, if they can't beat the Jets on Sunday, it's hard to see another game on their schedule that this team has a chance of winning. Big changes could come to the organization and coaching staff this offseason as the biggest deficiencies are on the offensive side of the ball and the franchise's inability to locate a capable starting quarterback. Those failures fall on head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves. Even if both remain, some smart owner is going to give defensive coordinator Ray Horton a head-coaching opportunity. Even with Calais Campbell out the last two weeks, Horton's defense ranks third in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA through Week 12.
25. New York Jets (4-7)
Last week: 24
Just when you think the Jets' season couldn't get any more embarrassing, they give us the Butt Fumble.
26. Cleveland Browns (3-8)
Last week: 27
The Browns scored a rare win over the Steelers on Sunday and are now a respectable 3-3 following their 0-5 start to the 2012 season. It's looking like another double-digit loss for the organization, but departing president Mike Holmgren got the franchise pointed in the right direction as GM Tom Heckert has added some quality pieces to the puzzle.
27. Tennessee Titans (4-7)
Last week: 26
In search of "fresh ideas," head coach Mike Munchak fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer this week, replacing him with quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. Under Palmer, the Titans offense ranked 15th in 2011 in Football Outsiders' DVOA , but were 24th through the first 11 games of a 2012 season in which starting quarterback Jake Locker has taken just 41.3 percent of the offensive snaps. Loggains probably would have been promoted in 2013, but Palmer was not the only problem with the Titans this season.
28. Carolina Panthers (3-8)
Last week: 29
Wouldn't read too much into the win over an Eagles team in a full-on death spiral that was playing without Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and both starting offensive tackles, and was blowing high school-level coverages on defense. But it was good to see Cam Newton have one of his best games of the season, passing for over 300 yards and accounting for all four of the Panthers' touchdowns, a performance that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)
Last week: 31
In pretty much two full games under center, Chad Henne passed for over 350 yards with four touchdowns in taking the Texans to overtime and passed for 261 yards and two touchdowns in an upset win over the Titans. Henne has seven touchdowns and just two interceptions on the season, setting up an interesting competition between himself and Blaine Gabbert in 2013.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8)
Last week: 28
In the wake of a seventh straight loss, the Eagles placed DeSean Jackson on injured reserve and abruptly waived defensive end Jason Babin, who had 18 sacks and made the Pro Bowl a season ago. LeSean McCoy is still in the early phases of his concussion rehab and it would be somewhat of a surprise if he isn't shut down at some point in the next five weeks.
31. Oakland Raiders (3-8)
Last week: 30
Carson Palmer hasn't exactly played well this season, but through 11 games, the Raiders are among the league's bottom three in Football Outsiders' defensive and special teams DVOA, making them the only team to rank 30th or below in multiple categories.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10)
Last week: 32
The Chiefs are 0-6 at Arrowhead Stadium and with Cam Newton and Andrew Luck remaining on the home schedule, it wouldn't be too surprising if that mark falls to 0-8.
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