By Don Banks
November 26, 2008
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NFL Power Rankings
1 New York Giants
Last Week: 2
Has there ever been a team that changed its persona more dramatically, more completely in a shorter span of time than the NY Giants? Less than one year ago, the G-Men were still largely viewed as a rather undiscliplined (remember all those penalties?), inconsistent bunch who absolutely could not stand prosperity for longer than two games in a row. If something good transpired for New York, you could be certain that some letdown and disappointment was on the way. But then came Week 17's heroic and galvanizing loss to New England last year, and well, things have never been the same in Gotham. It's really one of the more astounding turnarounds in NFL history, and one thing that I do know for sure is that Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey had not a thing to do with it.
2 New York Jets
Last Week: 6
Has there ever been a team that changed its persona more dramatically ... Oh, wait. Wrong New York team. But you get my point. These Jets are looking positively Giant-like of late, and gone are the usual trials and tribulations that have been the birthright of the green and white. I was in Nashville on Sunday, and the Jets didn't just beat the 10-0 Titans, they dominated them in a way I didn't think was possible this year in Tennessee. Did you see New York's offensive line wear down the Titans' vaunted defensive front, which is led by likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner Albert Haynesworth? That's not supposed to happen. Start spreadin' the news, folks, because a New York-New York Super Bowl suddenly became a distinct possibility.
3 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 1
I say a short work week is a good thing for the Titans, who probably can't wait to erase the stain of Sunday's humbling home loss to the Jets. When you haven't tasted defeat in almost a year, that first one stings a bit. Word is the Titans coaches went directly to the office on Sunday night after the New York game, and began work on the Detroit game plan. That's leaving nothing to chance. But Tennessee shouldn't be doubting itself too much, it just ran into a hotter team. The Lions no doubt will pay for it on Thanksgiving Day in Motown. I'd be shocked if Jeff Fisher's squad had two consecutive stinkers at this point in their memorable season.
4 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 3
You can see it coming, right? Having somehow gotten past San Diego to get to 7-4, the Colts will be 10-4 any minute now -- they've got at Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit just ahead -- and everyone on God's green earth at that point will label them "The Team Nobody Wants to Play in the AFC Playoffs." And the thing is, it'll probably be true. It felt a bit funny to have the Colts up this high, but then I realized they beat the Pats and Steelers in back-to-back games in Weeks 9-10, and where else can you put them but just ahead of New England and Pittsburgh?
5 New England Patriots
Last Week: 6
As the Dolphins learned Sunday in their own ballpark, you don't beat a Bill Belichick-coached team twice in one season. The last time that happened, the fundamentals of our economy really were strong. In other words, it's been a while.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 4
I read in Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback where Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive linemen were headed to Chicago last Friday, squeezing in a couple days of R&R after their Thursday nighter at home against Cincinnati. By absolute coincidence, the wife and I were headed to Chicago on Friday for a little family gathering. Now I'm not casting aspersions, mind you, but I didn't see Big Ben and the boys all weekend. Like you could hide six Steelers of that size in the Windy City. OK, maybe they were on Rush Street while I was on Michigan Avenue. Or vice versa.
7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 7
Just like they did against the Chiefs on the road a couple weeks earlier, the Bucs on Sunday in Detroit toyed with the poor, winless Lions, letting them think it was going to be their day before roaring back to add another layer of humiliation to an already humiliating season. That Jon Gruden is a cruel, cruel man. Just ask any of his quarterbacks.
8 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 5
I'm finally going to get to see the Panthers for the first time all season, this Sunday in Green Bay. I believe John Fox's club could be dangerous down the stretch, but it seems to leave the on-off switch in the wrong position at times, and that's troubling. Giving up 45 points to division-rival Atlanta on the road is sufficiently worthy of a three-spot drop out of the top five.
9 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 9
Honesty compels me to admit I don't really believe in Ken Whisenhunt's soon-to-be NFC West champions just yet. Seven wins sounds impressive, but not when four of them came against the Cardinals' three division mates, the 3-9 49ers, the 2-9 Seahawks and the 2-9 Rams. When you haven't won a division in 33 years, however, I suppose any division title against any collection of laughable losers will do.
10 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 10
Sorting out the league's collection of 7-4s isn't easy, but the way I see it is Arizona beat Dallas, and the Cowboys beat the Redskins more recently than the Redskins beat the Cowboys. As for the Redskins and Ravens, well, they play in Week 14, so we'll figure that one out then. Fair enough?
11 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 11
I've got a great working title for the Redskins 2008 highlights film if they go all the way this year: The Zorn Supremacy. I think I'll e-mail Washington's crack PR guy, Zack Bolno, and let him know he can use that one. I'm here to help.
12 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 13
Get this: I am reliably told that Ravens rookie head coach John Harbaugh likes to occasionally take part in drills in practice, and last week he got sandwiched between a safety and a receiver on a pass play. The receiver, Yamon Figures, nailed the helmet-less Harbaugh in the right cheek with the crown of his helmet. Harbaugh later met with the media sporting a noticeable welt under one eye. You gotta love Harbaugh. That kind of stunt would've knocked the Panama hat right off Brian Billick's head.
13 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 16
We in the media don't get paid to root for teams, of course, but it's impossible not to feel a little bit happy for the Falcons this year. After their reverse Midas Touch of 2007, they deserved a little hope and dreams this season. Truth be known, it's all gravy for Atlanta from here on out. The Falcons could lose their last five games and finish 7-9, and while it would be disappointing on some levels, you'd still have to consider 2008 an unqualified success story. And here's a news flash: They're not going to lose their final five games, because if nothing else, they've got St. Louis at home in Week 17.
14 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 17
I've picked the Saints to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl two-consecutive years now, and at least one member of their organization has pointedly asked me to find another club to jinx in 2009. "The Banks pressure is too great. Even I can feel the weight of it," said my New Orleans source. But did you see those Saints dismantle the Packers on Monday night? That was the team that I picked to go to the Super Bowl, in August. Not the maddening win-one, lose-one bunch that took the field in the first 10 games of the season. Who's with me on this?
15 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 14
If the Dolphins had beaten the Patriots at home on Sunday, I was prepared to write in my Snap Judgments that Miami's turnaround from 1-15 to 7-4 and in strong playoff contention was the greatest one-year reversal of fortune in NFL history. But then they lost, and I had to pivot and fall back on pondering the future of Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid in Philadelphia, which the editors seemed to like, so it worked out fine.
16 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 19
I saw the other day where Gale Sayers said it looks like Devin Hester is scared to return kickoffs this season. Boy, when Gale Sayers, one of the nicest men ever born, starts dissing you, you know you're having a bad year. For this season at least, Hester is close to reaching the point of no return -- and yes, we meant the pun.
17 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 20
If the Vikings expect us to take them seriously as a playoff contender, they've got to handle the Bears at home Sunday night. Minnesota hasn't done much in big games, starting with Super Bowl IV. If the Vikings win this one to get to 7-5, they've got a bye at Detroit coming up next week.
18 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 23
Hurrah, the Bills scored 54 last week at Kansas City when 34 would have gotten the job done. But I'm sure Buffalo fans are still haunted by the fact that just three more points would have won that Monday nighter at home against Cleveland in Week 11, and that loss might wind up being the one that drags the whole tent down on the Bills' season.
19 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 15
Oooh, Mike Shanahan isn't going to like this one bit. The NFL just ruled that losing at home to the Raiders by 21 points disqualifies any team from winning a division title this season. Then again, after their 3-0 start, the Broncos have been trying most of the season to disqualify themselves from winning the AFC West.
20 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 18
Can I get away with calling the Packers the best 5-6 team I've seen in quite some time? Oh, yeah, these are my power rankings this week and I can do what I want. Seriously, I still think Green Bay is going to win its division despite being a sub-.500 team entering Thanksgiving weekend. How's that for bold, fearless prognostication?
21 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 12
A big, slip-and-slide tumble down the board for the flailing Eagles, who almost every year now seem to have one of these three-week stints where the sky comes crashing down on their heads. But as someone once said, it is always darkest right before it's completely black. With all appearing lost, naturally I expect Philly to wake up and put a decent-sized whipping on the Cardinals on Thursday night.
22 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 21
If I bled Chargers' blue and bolts, I'd be beyond frustrated, irritated and darn near palpitated. Come to think of it, San Diego was my pick to win it all in 2008, so I'm at least miffed. This is a team that does whatever it takes -- to lose in agonizing fashion. Being 4-7 and still very much alive in the division race says it all in terms of San Diego's season of wasted opportunity.
23 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 24
The Jaguars used to be a team you could count on for a consistent, week-in, week-out effort. Now? They lose games in which they total five turnovers, four sacks, eight penalties and two missed field goals. Sheesh.
24 Houston Texans
Last Week: 26
What are the Texans playing for at this point in the season, I mean, besides head coach Gary Kubiak's job? Well, with a win at home this week against Jacksonville, the Texans could leap-frog the Jags all the way to No. 23 in these here power rankings. Houston, there's your motivation.
25 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 22
Well that was a twist we didn't see coming. Brady Quinn's season is over almost before it began. Kind of a fitting analogy for the 2008 Browns, wouldn't you say?
26 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 31
If you're a Raiders fan, do you really want them to have a little late-season success, thereby furthering the fantasy that they're close to respectability and shouldn't make many offseason changes? I didn't think so. Many a bad team has been lulled into inaction by meaningless late-season wins.
27 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 27
I know a certain editor, who shall remain nameless, who assured me in the preseason that the improved 49ers would not only win the NFC West, but also that Mike Nolan would be selected as the NFL's coach of the year. I'm pretty sure both the 49ers and Nolan are out of the running. (Editor's Note: Still holding out hope.)
28 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 29
At least the Seahawks, with their streak of five consecutive playoff trips ended, are still making opponents work for their wins. But this thing is headed for 3-13 in Mike Holmgren's final season, because Seattle still has the Cowboys, Patriots, Jets and Cardinals left to face -- four likely playoff teams.
29 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 30
Remember when Herm Edwards made all the highlight shows with his "You play to win the game" rant as the Jets head coach? Now I get it. He didn't say games, he said game. As in one game. Singular. Which is what the Chiefs have won this season. The game. The one and only game.
30 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 25
It's almost December and it's still a toss-up as to which state had a worse year, Ohio or Missouri. The Bengals and the underachieving Browns are a combined 5-16-1, while the Rams and Chiefs have gone just 3-19. Then again, Ohio went for Obama, with Missouri going for McCain, so the Show-Me State lost that one.
31 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 28
I am not making this up: Rams interim head coach Jim Haslett, who clearly has had enough, threw his guys under the bus after that embarrassment against the Bears at home on Sunday. "I am helpless on the sidelines when it comes to tackling, taking penalties and avoiding turnovers. I will do anything I can for them, but I can't do those three things. That is what they are paid for." I can't really remember Bill Belichick ever going that route. Coaches usually stand up and take the blame. That is what they are paid for.
32 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 32
If you can't hold a 17-point lead at home when you've got the historic motivation that the Lions have going for themselves these days, is any game winnable? And Detroit went from being up 17 to losing by 18. Which was nothing compared to Week 2 at home against Green Bay, when the Lions were down 21-0, up 25-24 midway through the fourth quarter, and still lost by 23, at 48-25.
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