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NFL Power Rankings, Week 14

Loosely translated, status quo is Latin for "nothing's changed,'' although the term may not have originated solely to describe the top of SI.com's NFL Power Rankings. Nevertheless, I've had the Saints, Colts and Vikings in my 1-2-3 slots for so long now those keys are starting to rust on my laptop.

But I have a feeling that change is just around the corner, and some big games in the coming two weeks could finally reshuffle the top five of our pecking order. For starters, all three of our leading teams have tough games this week, with the Saints traveling to Atlanta to play the desperate Falcons, the Colts staying home to face the resurgent Broncos, and the Vikings trying to rebound from that loss to Arizona in a home-dome game against AFC North-leading Cincinnati.

And look out for those hard-charging No. 4 Chargers, winners of seven in a row. I resisted the impulse to leap-frog them past No. 3 Minnesota this week, but a win at Dallas this week and I may not talk myself out of an upgrade next time around. No. 5 Cincinnati could be on the climb, too. The Bengals are at Minnesota and at San Diego in the next two weeks.

Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 1
There's no division quite like the NFC South when it comes to turnaround teams. For the seventh consecutive year, the team that finished last in the division the previous year went on to make the playoffs the next season. The worst-to-first Saints are just the latest example, and every team in the NFC South has turned the trick at least once in the eight-year history of the division.
 
2Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 2
So let me get this straight, the Colts intend on resting some of their key starters in the final weeks of the regular season even though that practice has failed to generate the sought-after results in the playoffs in 2005, 2007 and 2008, when Indy lost its opener each time? And you say the only year the Colts didn't go the easy-does-it route was 2006, when they got hot and won four playoff games en route to the Super Bowl title? Interesting. Very interesting.
 
3Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 3
Adrian Peterson and the Vikings running game went thirsty for yards against the Cardinals in the desert the other night, and now the Vikings look up and find themselves facing the Bengals and their No. 2-ranked run defense (81.8 yards per game) Sunday. If I'm Minnesota, I want to get Peterson back on track right now, because otherwise the temptation is to let the offense grow more Brett Favre-centric than would be wise.
 
4San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 4
The Chargers play a biggie at Dallas this week, and if there's a team that's the anti-Cowboys, it's San Diego. The Chargers have won 15 in a row in December, the longest winning streak in NFL history in the regular season's final month. You know what the Cowboys do in December. They just gift-wrap victories for all their NFL friends, giving away game after game in the spirit of the season.
 
5Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 5
There are those out there who still don't believe in these Bengals, but the next two weeks should tell us who they really are. Road games at Minnesota and at San Diego will test Marvin Lewis's club in ways it hasn't been thus far in the lackluster AFC North. The Bengals are going to have to score in bunches, and slow down offenses that have largely been unstoppable for the past two months. All in all, it should be a great indicator of what to expect from Cincinnati in the playoffs.
 
6Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 7
Can't tell you how impressed I was with the Cardinals' effort against Minnesota on Sunday night in that big shiny stadium of theirs. That Arizona defensive line out-classed the Vikings' injury-plagued offensive line, and a Cardinals offensive line that was missing left tackle Mike Gandy deflected everything Minnesota's vaunted pass rush threw at it. I see a payback beatdown coming for the 49ers Monday night in Candlestick.
 
7Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 9
I'm going with the Eagles one spot ahead of the Cowboys even though I was at the game in Philly five weeks ago when Dallas handled Andy Reid's team. The two rivals appear to be 8-4 teams headed in opposite directions once again this December, even though they both have tough games this week (Eagles at Giants, Chargers at Cowboys). Does Philadelphia ever not finish a season on the upswing?
 
8Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 8
Can the Cowboys lose at home to the Chargers and still make the playoffs? I suppose it's possible, but with the three games remaining after this one -- at New Orleans, at Washington, home against Philadelphia -- I don't like their chances unless they pick up win No. 9 this week. Put up or shut up time in Dallas. Lose this one and the December swoon stuff will again take on a life of its own.
 
9Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 10
Now that's the Jermichael Finley I spent all preseason telling everyone to look out for. The Packers tight end apparently loves the Monday Night Football spotlight, because his two biggest games this season came when Green Bay played in front of the MNF cameras. His seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns were critical to the Packers' win over Baltimore, and he had six receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown at Minnesota in Week 4.
 
10Denver Broncos
Last Week: 11
So it looks like Josh McDaniels and Jim Caldwell will be the only new head coaches (out of 11) to lead their teams to the playoffs in 2009, and given the Colts' perennial success, the Broncos are the only true turnaround story among that group. I don't see Denver making any real noise in January, but just getting into the Super Bowl tournament after the offseason the youthful McDaniels endured is no small accomplishment.
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