By Don Banks
December 07, 2011

Week 13, naturally I suppose, was a weird one in the NFL. Our top seven teams in these here NFL power rankings all won, thus the status quo look to the elite class of this week's rankings. But the next six teams -- Dallas, Atlanta, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati -- all fighting for their playoff lives, lost. So we re-jumbled them and we'll try again.

Actually, I think I've got this thing figured out now and have the 12 teams headed for the playoffs in my top 12 spots. Now if the final month of the season would be nice enough to confirm my hunches, it's going to be Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta and Detroit in the NFC; and Baltimore, New England, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh and the Jets in the AFC.

That wasn't so hard, was it? Now on to this week's rankings...

Week 13 NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
If they take care of business at home Sunday against the vulnerable Raiders, the Packers will earn their 19th consecutive victory, the league's second-longest winning streak ever after the 21-gamer New England reeled off in 2003-04. Green Bay during the course of a 19-game streak will have gone 8-0 at home, and 10-0 on the road, with the Super Bowl defeat of the Steelers being a neutral site win. The Packers with 19 straight victories would be 15-0 during that span against NFC teams, and 4-0 against AFC opponents. And in case you're wondering, the Lombardi-era Packers never won more than 12 in a row (1961-62).
2 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 2
The Saints play at Tennessee this week, and it's their last game outdoors for a while. They close the regular season with a trip to Minnesota (I suppose the Metrodome roof conceivably could collapse) and two home games, and they're almost a lock to play at home in the first round of the playoffs. But after that, New Orleans will likely face the prospects of outdoor road games at San Francisco and Green Bay in the playoffs, and neither one will resemble the friendly fast track of the Superdome. For the record, the Saints are 2-2 outdoors this year, winning at Jacksonville and Carolina, and losing at Green Bay and Tampa Bay.
3 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 3
The Ravens draw a visit from Indy this week, and the Colts have been a thorn in Baltimore's side for a very long time (see move to Indianapolis, early 1984; and 2006 divisional playoff loss). But not these Colts. It's hard to work up a good hatred for a winless team, because they almost engender pity at this point. You just want to beat them, check it off your schedule, and move on. But the Ravens would do well to remember 2007, when the 0-13 Dolphins got their only win of the season against them in Week 15, in overtime. Baltimore doesn't want to be that team again.
4 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 4
Did you see 49ers first-round pick Aldon Smith bull-rush Rams left tackle Adam Goldberg for that sack of A.J. Feeley in San Francisco's 26-0 blanking of St. Louis last Sunday? San Francisco's outside linebacker had two sacks and a fumble recovery against the punch-less Rams, giving him 9.5 sacks in the first 12 games of his career, second only to Broncos linebacker Von Miller (10.5) among rookies. Of the two top 10 picks from the University of Missouri last April, Smith (who went 7th overall) is getting his job done far better than Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert (10th).
5 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 5
This is the time of year when you can consume hours of your week trying to fully comprehend all the different NFL-issued playoff scenarios. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but know this: The 9-3 Steelers can clinch a playoff berth this week, but the 9-3 Ravens, who have beaten Pittsburgh twice this season, can't. It has to do with the Steelers being able to improve their AFC record to 8-3 with a win against Cleveland Thursday night, while the Ravens can't be better than 7-2 in the conference at the end of Week 14. And that's really as far as I'm willing to take it.
6 New England Patriots
Last Week: 6
If the playoffs opened today, the Patriots would be the AFC's No. 1 seed. Once upon a time that would have meant the road to the Super Bowl definitely wound through Foxboro. But once upon a time, New England didn't lose at home in the playoffs, like it's done in its postseason home opener in each of the past two years (against Baltimore in 2009 and the Jets in 2010). So, as we've said all along this year, nothing matters but January in New England this season.
7 Houston Texans
Last Week: 7
My favorite quote of the week, and maybe the year, came from Texans head coach and former career backup quarterback Gary Kubiak, when he learned that his new starting quarterback, rookie T.J. Yates, was what is referred to as a "combine arm" last winter in Indianapolis, meaning that Yates was invited to the combine largely to help facilitate the drills that involve passing: "He was a slappy?" Kubiak said to Yahoo! "Ha, kind of like I was." That's good self-awareness by Kubiak. He should have "Ex-Slappy" on his business card.
8 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 9
Atlanta plays at Carolina this week and improbably enough it's the Falcons' first game outdoors since a Week 4 trip to Seattle, where it's always cloudy anyway. That means it's possible the Falcons haven't seen the sun on game day since Week 3 at Tampa Bay. You wonder if that has any effect on a team, because everybody likes to play outdoors and get a little fresh air from time to time. No sunlight for long stretches of the year makes you sound more like the Alaska Falcons than the Atlanta Falcons.
9 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 14
The Bears at Broncos should make for an interesting game this week, but I doubt Kyle Orton will TiVo it. Both teams decided they could live without Orton, and now he's a Kansas City Chief with a dislocated finger, courtesy of an oddly-timed flea-flicker play on his first snap of action. Ah, the vagaries of life as an NFL quarterback. Tim Tebow and Caleb Hanie didn't start the season front and center on their teams, but they certainly are now.
10 New York Jets
Last Week: 15
This just in: Rex Ryan predicts that if the Jets get into the playoffs they can "do some damage." In other news, the sun is set to rise in the east again tomorrow morning. I like Rex's bravado, but given that New York has gone to the playoffs as a wild-card entry in each of the past two Januarys and won two games each year, predicting roughly more of the same isn't exactly the boldest of declarations. But we've gotta let Rex be Rex, and the man likes to get his Nostradamus on once in a while.
11 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 8
The Cowboys refuse to make things easy on themselves, so they found a way to lose at Arizona in overtime. And this one was creative. Icing their own rookie kicker, settling for a 49-yard field goal attempt as if it was in chip-shot range, and coach Jason Garrett's confusing attempts to explain why he decided to not call a timeout when he should have, and then called one when he shouldn't have. But that's just drama-loving Dallas. Let the Cowboys win at home against the Giants Sunday night, and Jerry Jones will be wearing that grin he stole from The Joker all week long.
12 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 12
As I've mentioned a couple times before, I have this friend who's a long-suffering Lions fan (that's redundant, isn't it?). He sent me a text this week wondering if it's just coincidence that Detroit's once-magical season has basically gone in the dumper since the Lions roughed up the Denver Tebows in Week 8? As if, you know, no one messes with Tebow and survives. I have to admit, I appreciate his paranoia, and his search for answers in this confounding and deflating second half of the season in Detroit.
13 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 17
Go ahead, try to get a real good handle on the Titans. They started the season 3-1, then went 1-3, and have since gone 3-1. If they finish out with a 1-3 record in the season's final quarter, that would produce a perfect sense of symmetry, not to mention an 8-8 non-playoff final record.
14 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 10
With their 34-14 humiliation at the hands of the Dolphins last Sunday, the Raiders haven't suffered a more costly loss in Miami since Super Bowl II. Oakland now trails Denver in the AFC West based on the conference-record tiebreaker, and the Raiders' four remaining opponents have a combined record of 29-19. Unless Oakland rises up and knocks off 12-0 Green Bay at Lambeau this week, the Raiders' playoff drive is suddenly in question.
15 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 13
The Bengals have lost to the Steelers and Ravens three times in their past four games, but we knew they weren't going to win the AFC North anyway. What really matters is if they can knock off the QB-depleted Texans at home this week. If so, I still love their AFC wild-card chances. Especially since there's at least a slim possibility Cincinnati's Week 17 home game against Baltimore won't be meaningful for the Ravens.
16 New York Giants
Last Week: 16
After that thriller against the Packers, some Giants were open to the idea of the loss being a moral victory that could serve as a springboard -- a la Week 17 in 2007 against New England -- and some were dismissive of the idea. The reality is, there's some truth in both stances. Some Giants came out of that game encouraged by their team's fight, and others are more bottom-line oriented, seeing it as just another loss. We don't all have to agree all the time, you know.
17 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 11
The day after the news of Jay Cutler's broken thumb, uh, broke, I must have heard a half dozen NFL experts/analysts of some ilk opine that the Bears would be fine with Caleb Hanie at quarterback, and Chicago could still get to 10 wins and a playoff berth. But the Bears aren't fine with Hanie, and I'm pretty sure home against Kansas City was one of the "wins" Chicago was counting on. Proving once again that when it comes to the NFL, nobody knows anything for certain, and if they say they do, they're lying.
18 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 20
It doesn't seem remotely fair that the Chargers could have unearthed another receiving weapon named Vincent. I mean, Vincent Jackson would be plenty enough for most teams, but now San Diego has rookie Vincent Brown to pair with him. Brown, a third-round pick out of San Diego State, has come on of late, catching 14 passes for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his past five games. Two big-play receiving Vincents just begs for a nickname of some sort.
19 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 22
Suddenly the Dolphins can't lose at home, after struggling for a season and a half to hang up Ws at Sun Life Stadium (or whatever they're calling the place this week). Miami has won its past three at home and now here come the punch-drunk Eagles to town. My theory is the Dolphins just needed to get the Marlins the heck outta there, like the brother-in-law who asks to stay a couple weeks with you and then winds up claiming squatter rights on the sofa in the den. Sometimes you just need a place to call your own.
20 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 24
I love how "Pistol Pete" Carroll has his Seahawks playing with the emotion and energy they displayed in knocking off Baltimore and Philadelphia in the past month. But how does Seattle lose a 10-point lead at home to Washington in Week 12? Otherwise the Seahawks would be 6-6 and ahead of the Giants (who they beat in New Jersey) in the NFC wild-card race. That defeat has to have spawned some sleepless nights in Seattle. (Sorry for that).
21 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 25
The Seahawks aren't the only NFC West team standing up for itself and the downtrodden division in the season's second half. The Cardinals are 4-1 in their past five games, and they'd be 6-6 and in the wild-card picture if it weren't for that massive second-half collapse at Baltimore in Week 8. The shoulda, woulda, couldas are everywhere in the NFL at this time of year.
22 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 18
If you're a Bills fan, how do you buy into your team's fast start ever again? They began 4-0 in 2008, and faded to 7-9. They streaked to 3-0 and 5-2 this season and yet December looks as dismal and dreary as ever in Buffalo. I think from now on I'd reserve judgment until a playoff berth was clinched before I really believed in the Bills.
23 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 19
There was one obvious team that sort of had a temporary need at quarterback when Donovan McNabb was waived, but nobody really mentioned as a possible landing spot. Wouldn't that have been another fun chapter in this fun-filled season in Philly? The return of No. 5. To go along with Vick and Vince and Mike Kafka. We can dream.
24 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 26
I'm not saying they will, but the spoiler role is ready and waiting to be claimed by the Chiefs. In the final four weeks of the season, they play four playoff-contending or playoff-bound teams: the Jets, Packers, Raiders and Broncos. And that's coming off Kansas City's past four games against the Broncos, Patriots, Steelers and Bears. All seven of those clubs could be in the postseason.
25 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 28
Ditto for the Panthers, on the spoiler front. And Carolina is dangerous enough to actually make some trouble for contenders, starting this week at home against Atlanta, and continuing next week at Houston, and in Week 17 at New Orleans. Cam Newton and crew are not the easiest of touches this season.
26 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 23
So much for Mike Shanahan's big push to add character guys to his roster. In training camp, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder told me that's what was different about this year's club, and that's how Shanahan was building a winner in Washington. But when Trent Williams, the first player Shanahan drafted with the Redskins, and Fred Davis are suspended for the final month of the season due to multiple failed tests for marijuana, well, you kind of surrender the high ground on the character issue.
27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 21
Raheem Morris might need a hug about now. I'm not sure who's in the best position to give him one, but he's starting to act his age. And that's not a compliment.
28 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 27
I think it's fair to start wondering how long Mike Holmgren is going to hang around in Cleveland if this is all the Browns are capable of producing. Just more of the same mediocre football, year after frustrating year. Honest answer, Browns fans: Were 1996-97-98, the years Cleveland had no NFL team, much, much worse than the ensuing 13 seasons?
29 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 29
Blaine Gabbert's second-half showing against the Chargers Monday night was troubling in any number of ways. I'm not sure he's benefitting at this point from further playing time. This might be the rare case where less is more, and you're doing damage to his development by continuing to play him. But if you're the Jaguars, you're trying to find out what you really have in Gabbert before next April's quarterback-rich draft. So you keep playing him, and maybe reinforce what you fear you already might know.
30 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 30
Yes, Tim Tebow had his best passing day of the season in the Broncos' comeback win at Minnesota last week. But let's not lose sight of the sorry state of affairs that currently constitutes the Vikings secondary. It's a disaster area that should have yellow police tape encircling it at this point of the season.
31 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 31
Third-string quarterback Tom Brandstater could be Brand-starter this week for St. Louis in Seattle, and that says it all about the 2011 Rams.
32 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 32
Dan Orlovsky didn't win his first start, against the Patriots in New England, but he looked like an NFL quarterback capable of winning a game. That's more than you could say about Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter in Indianapolis this season.

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