By Don Banks
November 23, 2011

You know what I'm thankful for? For starters, that the NFL isn't the NBA, with a season that wound up being held hostage by labor strife. Can you imagine how Thanksgiving Day would have been this year with no football? No 10-0 Packers at 7-3 Lions? No 9-1 San Francisco taking on 7-3 Baltimore in the Harbaugh Bowl? No shots of a pained and grimacing Jerry Jones in the owners box in Dallas, occasionally missing as he attempts to high-five anyone around him when the Cowboys do make a play?

We shudder at the thought. But football isn't only back, it's about to get really, really good. Turkey Day has never been so rich on the pigskin front. We are indeed a blessed football nation.

Now on to this week's rankings ...

Week 11 NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
Think maybe we've heard enough about the 1962 Packers-Lions Thanksgiving Day game already this week (Green Bay's only loss, 11 sacks of Bart Starr, etc...)? I know I have. I get the parallels, but there's a saturation point we're dealing with. And too bad it's only the 49th anniversary of that showdown, rather than a nice, even 50th. Things don't always work perfectly. This year's game doesn't need that year's game to make it even more significant. This will be the Packers' supreme challenge of the season, and if they get past the Lions, Green Bay's chances to go undefeated improve exponentially.
2 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 2
You know it's a good time of the year when the NFL's playoff-clinching scenarios hit your email inbox. The 49ers haven't been prominently mentioned in those for a while, but it's all hiccups and giggles (that's an old Dennis Green saying I can't quite lose) this season in San Francisco. With a win in Thursday night's Harbaugh Bowl in Baltimore, 49ers Fever might just rage out of control. San Francisco is 4-0 in the Eastern Time Zone this season, but this is the toughest test yet for Alex Smith and Co.
3 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 3
Get ready for a healthy dose of Who Dat nation because the Saints play at home Monday night against the Giants, and this week got their Dec. 4 home game against the Lions flexed to the Sunday night NBC time slot. I'm already down to cover the New York game, and might as well stay in New Orleans the entire week and hit the Lions matchup, too. I'm sure my editors see the logic of that. Who's with me on this one? Anybody?
4 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 4
I suppose it's too much to hope for the NFL Network to resist turning this week's Harbaugh Bowl into a overly-sappy, Lifetime made-for-TV movie (that's redundant, isn't it?). It's a really good football game between two first-place teams, and I'd hate to see that fact completely obscured by the family sub-plot of the coaching Harbaugh brothers facing off on the holiday. But they so seldom ask for my opinion on these matters.
5 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 5
The Steelers are rested, getting healthy and about to take on a slumping and injury-decimated Chiefs team that just played a Monday night road game with a quarterback making his first NFL start. I think I like Pittsburgh Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. By a considerable margin. Maybe 33 or so.
6 New England Patriots
Last Week: 7
That was nice of New England, cutting safety Ross Ventrone Wednesday for something like the 47th time this season, allowing him to be home with his family in time for the Thanksgiving celebration. Such a caring, sensitive organization, the Patriots. What's that? New England just re-signed Ventrone because they needed enough bodies to practice Thursday morning? I'm sure Bill Belichick has his reasons.
7 Houston Texans
Last Week: 8
With Matt Leinart back among the starting ranks, Vince Young pulling out a win last week in relief of the injured Michael Vick, and Jay Cutler going down for a while with a broken thumb in Chicago, the 2006 first-round quarterback class is back in the news in a big way. They've all moved around some since '06, but hey, it could be worse. In 2007, the first round of the draft gave us JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.
8 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 9
I bet Bears head coach Lovie Smith wishes he had this one back. After the win over the Chargers, he said this of Jay Cutler chasing down cornerback Antoine Cason on his fourth-quarter interception, the play on which Cutler broke his right thumb: "Maybe Jay's biggest play of the game came on that interception, buying time for (a pursuing) Matt Forte. Who would have thought we'd be talking about Matt Forte and Jay Cutler on a defensive play they made?" Who would have thought the Bears' season might have turned on that impressive but ill-fated play by Cutler?
9 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 10
You apparently don't get the Lions' full attention until you build at least a 17-point lead against them. Detroit has now dug out of a deficit of three scores or more three times this season, and that's a dangerous way to make a living in the NFC playoff picture. But if the Packers race away to a cushy advantage on Thursday, don't turn away and tuck into the turkey. As it turns out, Matthew Stafford can throw the ball pretty well with gloves on after all.
10 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 13
The Cowboys got out of Washington (okay, technically Maryland) with their winning streak intact, and cracked our top 10, putting them in prime position to keep the good times rolling on Thursday when the Dolphins visit. But Miami is nobody's homecoming opponent these days, having outscored its past three opponents 86-20 en route to winning three in a row. But it's good that Dallas is getting another challenge so soon, because it'll keep the Cowboys from falling into their familiar trap of over-confidence, which has often led to disappointing Decembers.
11 New York Giants
Last Week: 6
I feel like a broken record, but the Giants keep proving my point over and over again. To repeat, the minute you start to feel good about Tom Coughlin's team, you can be sure a losing streak is on the way (see upset at New England, then defeats by the 49ers and Eagles). And just when you're ready to give up on the Giants and declare them a bastion of mediocrity, they will rise up and prove you wrong, before repeating the entire process. It makes for a dizzying trip up and down the power rankings.
12 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 11
The Jermaine Gresham non-catch of that non-touchdown on Sunday against Baltimore might have been the correct call as the rule is currently written, but it's a ridiculous rule and everyone in the NFL knows it. Again, that play has been a touchdown in the NFL for 98.7 percent of the league's existence, with hundreds of such examples captured by NFL Films, but now it's not a touchdown. That makes no sense, and the league simply has to go back to a rule that passes the eyeball test.
13 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 14
The Falcons had that crushing loss to New Orleans at home in Week 10 (see 4th and inches), but they bounced back in fine form against the Titans. According to ESPN, that's their trademark in the Mike Smith era. Atlanta is 16-3 after a loss in Smith's four seasons, including 8-0 the past three years. Those are stats that really matter, because if you can avoid losing streaks in the NFL, you're going to stick around for a good long while.
14 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 15
If current trends continue, the Raiders in the last six weeks of the season will face the following quarterbacks: Chicago's Caleb Hanie, Miami's Matt Moore, and Kansas City's Tyler Palko, none of whom were starters when the season began. Throw in the regular-season finale against the slumping Philip Rivers and the Raiders might be getting the AFC West title gift-wrapped for them this season.
15 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 19
The only surprise regarding the release of Kyle Orton on Tuesday was that it didn't occur to the Broncos sooner to cut him loose and try and save the rest of the money on his 2011 contract. I mean, has anyone even seen or heard from Orton in the past five weeks or so, since Tim Tebow was elevated to starter? He was all but invisible, and there's no reason to pay for a $2.5 million appendage at this point.
16 New York Jets
Last Week: 12
I bet even Rex Ryan knows it's laughable when he tries to buck up the sagging and slumping Mark Sanchez by declaring that No. 6 will be his quarterback in New York as long as he's the head coach. Uh, care to make another guarantee on that one, Rex? This is the NFL, and that Not For Long stuff is no joke. Let Sanchez continue to regress and the Jets will suddenly find a suitable reason to transition from the Sanchez era to the Sanchez error.
17 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 16
I liked what I saw of rookie quarterback Jake Locker in his two-touchdown-pass relief role of Matt Hasselbeck, but I get it that it's probably not the time to toss Locker the keys to the offense with the Titans sitting 5-5 and still alive in the AFC wild-card chase. There's still the opportunity for Locker to get some starting experience in the season's final weeks if the next two or three games get away from Tennessee.
18 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 24
If I'm an Eagles fan, the win against New York is a little bittersweet. It's always nice to stay alive, stop the bleeding and beat a division opponent. But it also just serves to remind you how differently things should have and could have gone this season, were it not for all those fourth-quarter meltdowns. Let's see if Philly can build on last week with another strong showing against New England, or if the Eagles were just a one-week tease with their upset of the Giants.
19 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 23
Two wins in a row can make you look at a team entirely differently in today's NFL, and the Seahawks have a little something going for themselves here in November. And it should continue, with Seattle about to start a three-game homestand against the reeling Redskins, the sub-.500 Eagles, and the very same Rams team it just beat last week in St. Louis. The Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch are getting results in the running game, and Seattle's defense is starting to create some havoc for teams.
20 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 17
Nothing spells out the difference between September and November in the NFL quite like the fall from grace of the Bills. Buffalo rode energy, enthusiasm and an interception-happy defense to a 3-0 start in the season's first month, but the Bills are 2-5 since and their three losses this month have all been worse than the last one. Most troubling of all is the recent spate of turnovers by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who suddenly looks pretty mediocre now that the franchise showed its faith in him with that October contract extension.
21 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 18
After listening to his post-game media session Sunday evening in Chicago, I'm of the opinion that Chargers head coach Norv Turner is in deep denial regarding his underachieving 4-6 team, which has lost five in a row, the longest skid in San Diego since 2003. Turner actually said "a lot of things happened today that our guys will be able to build on," but then didn't bother to cite any of them. The Chargers aren't completely dead in the AFC West, but it's must-win time this week at home against Denver.
22 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 20
The Bucs pre-London: 4-2. The Bucs, from London on: 0-4. Tell me again why Tampa Bay should want to be the NFL's pick to cross the pond and play a game in Britain every season? Because you could make a pretty good case that 2011 started going down the wrong road when the Bucs packed up and hit the road for Wembley and their date with the Bears.
23 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 26
I've always liked Matt Moore's game and thought he was a better quarterback than he got credit for, but it would be premature for Miami to start thinking about him as their long-term answer at the position based on his great play during the Dolphins' current three-game winning streak. The Carolina Panthers kind of made the same assumption after Moore went 4-1 in the last five games of 2009, with eight touchdowns and just one interception. His 2010 showing didn't follow up on that late-season success, and that's why Miami should be drafting a QB next spring no matter what transpires in the next six weeks.
24 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 31
That Cleveland offense can be hard to watch, but the best thing the Browns did last offseason was bring defensive coordinator Dick Jauron to town. Cleveland's D is giving up 19.3 points per game, ranking 7th best in the league, and in six of the Browns' 10 games they've held opponents to 20 points or less. That's the side of the ball that makes Cleveland fans believe there's something to build on in 2012, because solid defense is the common denominator in the rugged AFC North.
25 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 21
I'm for anything that gets more left-handed quarterbacks on the field in the NFL, so Tyler Palko and Matt Leinart, don't let us down with these late-season shots you've been given. When you throw in the likely return of Michael Vick from his case of broken ribs, we could have lefties galore in Week 12. In Kansas City, Palko even has a left-handed quarterbacks coach in Jim Zorn, one of the better port-side passers in league history.
26 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 22
John Skelton, the kid from Fordham, flashed in the starting quarterback job, but then flamed out last week against the 49ers, completing just six of 19 passes, with three interceptions, a fumble and a sack. That's at least going to make it easier for Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt to turn back to Kevin Kolb once he's healthy again. The Kurt Warner era must already feel like a couple eons ago in Arizona.
27 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 25
The Jaguars are limping home to the finish line this season and last Sunday's questionable late-game play-calling in Cleveland only added to the feeling that it's all over but the canning for Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio. Let's be honest: in terms of longevity, Del Rio has gotten every bit out of the Jaguars gig that he could have hoped for going in. Nine years with two playoffs berths is a pretty good trick these days. Even Tom Coughlin only got eight years in Jacksonville, and he went to the postseason four times and made the AFC title game twice.
28 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 29
C'mon, DeAngelo Hall. You think we're slow on the uptake or something? Hall got beat by Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on a key play late in last Sunday's overtime home loss to Dallas, and responded by telling the media the team should cut him because he's not worth the money he's getting right now. Why should Hall be so lucky? No briar patch for you, DeAngelo. You're riding out this six-game losing streak like the rest of the Redskins.
29 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 27
The Vikings are such a non-entity right now that even the networks that pay to televise their games don't want them. The NFL moved Minnesota's Week 13 game against Denver from a 4 p.m. ET start to 1 p.m., and shifted it from CBS to FOX, even though the AFC's Broncos are the visiting team and thus CBS has the rights to the game. That's the very definition of must-not-see TV.
30 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 28
I know Cam Newton means there's hope on the horizon, but it's a tough time to be a Panthers fan, at least on game days. Carolina has won just four of its past 26 games dating to the start of 2010, and that's about as dismal a stretch as anyone outside of Josh McDaniels has endured lately.
31 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 30
I don't think anything that has transpired in the NFL this season has been more surprising to me than the sorry state of Sam Bradford's game. The Rams' second-year quarterback looks like a shell of his rookie self, and the 31 sacks he has taken in his eight games is almost equal to what he absorbed in 16 starts last year (34). St. Louis has scored just 120 points in 10 games, and there's no sugar-coating at this point. The Rams are dreadful again, and major moves will have to be made this offseason in what is sure to be a house-cleaning of some sort.
32 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 32
With Carolina visiting this week, a Week 15 home game against Tennessee and a regular-season finale at Jacksonville, I think the Colts still have three legitimate chances to get a victory. Not that I would pick them to win any of those games, but they have a shot if things fall their way and the other team under-performs. Good thing the people of Indianapolis have the Super Bowl to look forward to, because this can't feel like the kind of holiday season they're accustomed to.

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