By Don Banks
December 23, 2009
NFL Power Rankings
11 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 12
Baltimore's ride ended in Pittsburgh last season, in the AFC title game, and now here the Ravens are again, 11 months later, facing another monster game at Heinz Field. But with an offense that has hung up 79 points in its past two games and won those by an average margin of 34.5, it's a pretty good time for Baltimore to be catching the Steelers' struggling defense. With a win, the Ravens would take a huge stride toward the playoffs and get the added pleasure of putting hated Pittsburgh out of its misery.
12 New York Giants
Last Week: 14
Watching New York swarm Jason Campbell Monday night, it made you wonder where that pass rush has been all season for the G-Men? New York had five sacks, and consistently hurried Campbell into bad throws. Sure, it's easier to pass rush when the other team has to throw and is trailing 24-0 before everyone has found their seats. But still, the Giants got sacks from five different players and came after Campbell with a ferocity that few opposing quarterbacks have seen from New York this season.
13 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 9
And to think I even sort of warned the Broncos and their fans not to look past the pesky Raiders last week in Denver's power rankings blurb. I don't know what more I could have done, other than pinned JaMarcus Russell to the ground in the fourth quarter when he went down and out for that one play in favor of J.P. Losman. Who knew the oft-castigated former No. 1 overall selection would pick himself up and play the hero at Invesco? But he did, and now the Broncos are letting it slip away in December once again.
14 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 17
I've always had kind of a soft spot for the veteran linebacker who toils valiantly for years in the same NFL locale -- the Derrick Brooks, Brian Urlacher, Tedy Bruschi, Keith Brooking and Zach Thomas types ? so it was sad to hear the news this week that Tennessee's Keith Bulluck tore the ACL in his left knee and won't be able to extend his 127-game starting streak. Bulluck's 10th NFL season with the Titans is done, and it might be his last one in Tennessee after a solid decade of service. If he does move on in 2010, here's hoping Titans fans somehow get a chance to say a proper goodbye.
15 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 13
I really don't recall there ever being this many 7-7s still alive with two weeks of the schedule remaining, but it's kind of fun to see so many fans at least clinging to hope through Christmas. I still think the Dolphins are the best of the .500 bunch, even though I had to rank them just below the Titans, the team that beat them in overtime on Sunday. To me, Miami is a more complete team this year, even without Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown, than the 11-5 playoff-qualifying Dolphins of 2008. I was never quite sold on that club. But this one is legit -- .500, but legit.
16 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 21
Mike Tomlin's goofy onside kick decision didn't set off the firestorm of Bill Belichick's controversial fourth-and-2 call for one very good reason. Make that two. First off, the Steelers won, and that absolves almost any sin in the NFL. Second, at 6-7, Pittsburgh was clinging to the barest playoff hopes anyway, not playing its game of the year against its arch rivals as New England was doing at Indy in Week 10. But make no mistake: Tomlin was issuing a vote of no confidence in his defense, just the same as Mr. Bill.
17 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 15
? Even if their Jags dip under the break-even mark with a loss at New England this week, Jacksonville fans can't really complain about their team this season. Jack Del Rio's guys were overachievers who made the most of what they had. Sure, the losses to those NFC West stragglers like Seattle and San Francisco hurt, but cobbling together a 7-3 run after an 0-2 start felt pretty darn good.
18 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 18
I'm really rooting for Atlanta to win its last two games and mercifully end that franchise-long streak of never posting back-to-back winning seasons -- mainly because I'm tired of doing the math when it's time to figure out how many years the born-in-1966 Falcons have been playing. It's 44, by the way. Atlanta is about to put the wraps on its 44th season. I'm older than that, but not by much.
19 Houston Texans
Last Week: 19
Pretty poor excuse for a running game that Houston is fielding these days. The Texans ran for just 52 yards and produced five first downs on the ground in squeaking out a three-point victory at one-win St. Louis. Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats, Chris Brown. The names have changed in the backfield at times this season, but the results really haven't. Houston is a good bet to not have a 500-yard rusher this season, let alone a 1,000-yard lead back.
20 New York Jets
Last Week: 16
In between declaring his Jets team out of and then back in the playoff chase, Rex Ryan took time this week to deny a report that he threw a football at a referee after his team's bitter loss to Atlanta on Sunday. But I say throwing a ball at a ref in anger is still better than Mark Sanchez throwing the ball to the other team, which he has been doing way too much of lately. Sanchez these days looks like he had no idea what he was getting himself into with this NFL stuff. Can you blame him if he misses Southern Cal just a tad?
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