By Don Banks
December 02, 2009
NFL Power Rankings (cont.)
11 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 13
With tough road games remaining at Indianapolis and Philadelphia, the Broncos' path to 10 wins and a playoff berth is crystal clear: They have to go 3-0 against the Chiefs, whom they play twice, and the Raiders. Sounds eminently doable, but Denver in recent years has made a habit of giving away winnable games in December and missing the playoffs when they looked almost unmissable. (See 2006 and 2008).
12 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 15
It seems to happen almost every year, but Baltimore has another impact draft class coming together this season. Second-round linebacker/defensive end Paul Kruger essentially won the game Sunday night with his overtime interception of Pittsburgh's Dennis Dixon, and we already knew that offensive tackle Michael Oher (first round) and cornerback/return man Lardarius Webb (third round) were quality picks.
13 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 10
Losing in overtime at Baltimore after starting your No. 3 quarterback is far from shameful, but the fact remains the Steelers have lost fourth-quarter leads in four of their five losses this season and that's so very un-Pittsburgh like. I know the absence of safety Troy Polamalu has been huge, but that's letting the rest of the Steelers defense off the hook for those fourth-quarter failures.
14 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 14
Vince Young's resurgence and Chris Johnson's MVP-type season have deserved the headlines, but don't overlook that Tennessee has returned to playing hard-nosed, Titans-like defense during its five-game winning streak. After a shaky start to his first defensive coordinator gig, Chuck Cecil has steadied his unit and has it playing with grit and determination once again. Tennessee has limited four of its past five opponents to 17 points or fewer.
15 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 16
Michael Vick returns to town this weekend, but will anyone (yawn) notice if he rarely takes the field? The bigger stories in Atlanta will be the Falcons' Chris Redman starting at quarterback for the first time since late 2007, the health of Atlanta's offensive line and running back Michael Turner, and new Falcons kicker Matt Bryant taking over for the erratic Jason Elam. Vick's just a minor sub-plot, but you can be sure the TV cameras will stay trained on him throughout the day.
16 New York Giants
Last Week: 11
If the Giants are going to make any noise these next two months, they have to rediscover their offensive identity, starting this week at home against Dallas. New York's power running game has to establish the tone on offense with a downhill, straight-ahead style of attack, and that sets up the opportunities in the passing game for Eli Manning. The Giants coaching staff needs to show some faith in an offensive line that has led the way to success in the past. This should be the time of the year when New York pounds away in the running game.
17 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 17
Chad Henne had his worst day yet as the Dolphins starting quarterback, throwing three interceptions in the final three minutes of the loss at Buffalo. Henne looks kind of stuck in that two-steps-forward, three-steps-back rut that a lot of young quarterbacks find themselves in after some initial success. But it's hang-with-'em time in Miami, because Henne has some real upside. This isn't John Beck, part II.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 18
The 20-3 loss at San Francisco sobered up those Jaguars playoff hopes pretty quick. The Jaguars are probably going to bump their head on a 9-7 ceiling, and that isn't likely to get it done in the AFC wild-card chase unless all the tiebreakers fall Jacksonville's way, and both Pittsburgh and Baltimore collapse.
19 New York Jets
Last Week: 22
Joe Girardi teaching Mark Sanchez how to slide? What, was Rickey Henderson busy? Sounds like a bit of a stunt in a once-promising Jets season that has featured a few too many of those. You would think New York might want to stay away from any talk of sliding, for fear it would be used as a metaphor of its season.
20 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 20
Pretty nice game for Alex Smith against the Jaguars. Just keep running him out there in the season's final five games, Mike Singletary, and find out once and for all if you have a quarterback you can win with.
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