By Don Banks
December 23, 2009

It's a great time of the year, if you're either a math major or an idiot savant. Take the AFC for example. They've played 15 weeks of the schedule over there in order to eliminate all of four teams: Buffalo, Oakland, Cleveland and Kansas City. That's it. Everybody else is still alive in the playoff chase, and at .500 or better.

Actually, I love when the NFL's wonderfully complicated playoff scenarios start hitting my email in-box. Sure, Donovan McNabb and the rest of us could do without the messy explanations of what happens if Denver and Philadelphia wind up tying (ties in the NFL? Who knew?), but eventually clarity always emerges from the morass. And then we have our playoffs, and crown our champion, and immediately begin counting down the days until the whole thing starts up again. Am I right?

And now on to this week's rankings ... (Send comments to

NFL Power Rankings
1 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 2
Have I mentioned lately how in the preseason I foresaw the Colts taking a modest step back this season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and obviously not winning their customary 12 or so games? Nailed that one, I did. After letting the Saints have their fun, Indy's right back atop the heap in our power rankings, and if the Colts play like they did in Jacksonville, nobody's knocking them off any time soon. Hey, where's the Super Bowl this season? Miami, huh? That worked pretty well for Peyton Manning and Co. the last time.
2 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 4
This is rarified air for a Chargers team that started 2-3 and had people wanting Norv Turner gone in mid-October, but who's putting it all together any better than the Bolts these days? Nine straight wins has San Diego peaking at the perfect time, and Philip Rivers believes he can make any throw on the field. At this point, I'm not sure I'd want a bye week if I'm the Chargers. Why let anything cool off even a smidge? That said, Christmas night in Nashville will be no holiday for San Diego. The Titans can bruise you up a bit.
3 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 1
One loss and the Saints are getting picked apart like a hamburger bun discovered by a flock of sea gulls. Even I've dropped them from first to third in a heartbeat, below the three-loss Chargers. But in truth, I don't believe the sky is falling in New Orleans. I just think the Saints finally had the bad game that's been coming for a while now, and they had it against a desperate Cowboys team. Happens. As for the Chargers, they're just a better team playing at a higher level than New Orleans at the moment. Nothing tricky about it.
4 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 3
Wow, at this rate, Brett Favre and Brad Childress won't be on speaking terms by Christmas and everyone in the Vikings organization will have to choose sides and swear a blood oath to either the quarterback or the head coach. Maybe this is what they meant by "a schism" in the Vikings locker room. The old magic carpet ride in Minnesota appears to have hit a speed bump. Wasn't it just yesterday the Vikings were 10-1 and sailing along like the good ship lollipop?
5 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 5
In case you've lost track, the Eagles are the obvious team of the decade in the NFC. And it's not even close. Philly will make its eighth playoff trip of the 2000s this season, and the Eagles lead all clubs in their conference in wins (102-55-1), division titles (five, with a shot at a sixth), playoff wins (10), winning seasons (eight), and trips to the NFC title game (five). The only downside is that Philadelphia is still chasing what division rivals in Dallas, New York and Washington all have in multiples: A Super Bowl ring.
6 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 6
The Packers' last-second loss at Pittsburgh doesn't obscure the fact that Green Bay has really found itself a player in rookie linebacker Clay Matthews. The kid is showing up all over the field, and he may just beat out his fellow ex-Southern Cal linebacker Brian Cushing for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. Matthews has 10 sacks in 11 starts this season, a rookie team record, and he picked up two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger and nearly had a third.
7 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 11
Shaun Suisham for Nick Folk sounds like replacing a problem with a dilemma, but in fairness to the ex-Redskins kicker, he was having a fairly solid season this year until missing that crucial 23-yarder against the Saints a few weeks back. Our favorite Folk hero, on the other hand, leads the NFL in missed field goals this season with 10, and he's not likely to get a crack at increasing that total now that Dallas has dismissed him. Curious year all around for NFL kickers, whose accuracy has strangely dipped in 2009.
8 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 7
Sad days to be a Bengal, but now it's time to take care of business on the field and lock down that AFC North title that Cincy has been positioning itself for all season. Somehow I overlooked the detail that Larry Johnson gets a crack at the Chiefs this week, and you know what happened earlier this season at Paul Brown Stadium when Cedric Benson got his chance for revenge against the Bears. He didn't miss it.
9 New England Patriots
Last Week: 10
That monologue that Randy Moss delivered to the media on Sunday after the Patriots' win at Buffalo, I've heard that one before. Every once in a while, Moss gets his dander up and decides he's had just about all the Moss-bashing he cares to take. I don't mind it a bit. He gets his say. Fair is fair. And you never know what might come out of his mouth when he launches into one of those rambling, "These shoulders that I have on my body, you can put the earth on it" Mossian-type pronouncements. Kind of a Charles Atlas image, if you will.
10 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 8
Can't figure out the Cardinals for the life of me, but this much I do know: Arizona running back Beanie Wells isn't hitting the proverbial rookie wall late in the regular season, he's getting stronger. Wells had his first career 100-yard rushing day at Detroit, and he's turning into a consistent 5.0-plus per carry rusher. He's a chains-mover these days in the Arizona offense, and he rarely gets brought down at first contact.
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