November 20, 2013
A relatively easy remaining schedule could put the Bears (6-4) in the driver's seat in the NFC North.
Jeff Haynes/SI
NFL Power Rankings
1 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 2
The Seahawks pretty much have the NFC West sewn up, and they could take a big step toward home-field advantage in the playoffs if they can handle the Saints on Dec. 2. The offensive line is starting to get healthy, Russell Wilson is playing out of his mind and Percy Harvin showed he can make big plays. In their last five games of the 2012 regular season, the Seahawks offense unloaded on its opponents, winning all five contests by an average score of 38.6-12.0. Watch out, America.
2 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 4
In Denver's 27-17 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, Peyton Manning completed 24-of-40 passes, only two of which could be considered deep throws. He wasn't sacked once, and didn't even suffer a quarterback hit against the league's most ferocious defense. Perhaps playing like Alex Smith is the best way to beat Alex Smith's team?
3 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 3
The Saints have the second-best point differential in the NFC (+105, behind Seattle's +127). Were it not for two close losses to AFC East teams, they'd be perfect. Still, that ominous music on the horizon comes courtesy of the Carolina Panthers, who have won six straight and face New Orleans twice in three weeks starting on Dec. 8. Sean Payton's team had best keep on that gravy train, because the Panthers are as scary as any team in the league right now.
4 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 6
Controversial non-call aside, we saw all the things that have made the Panthers a better team in their 24-20 win over the Patriots on Monday night. The front seven was outstanding, the secondary was opportunistic and Cam Newton is mixing quarterback efficiency and read-option confusion at a higher level than he ever has before. The franchise's first winning season since 2008 seems in the bag, but this team wants more -- and it has what it takes to grab it.
5 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 1
In their loss to the Broncos, the Chiefs proved what most already knew about them -- outstanding defense and killer running game notwithstanding, Alex Smith can't operate the kind of vertical passing game needed to win the kinds of shootouts Kansas City might face in the playoffs. Andy Reid has one game against the San Diego Chargers this Sunday to figure out a workaround, because the Broncos come to Arrowhead the next week -- and losing the season series to Denver could make the Chiefs an easy one-and-done in the postseason.
6 New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
The good news for the Patriots is that after a slow start to the season, Tom Brady is once again at his most efficient. He didn't throw an incomplete pass in the third quarter of New England's loss to the Panthers, and completed 25-of-29 passes at one point. The bad news? The Pats don't want to have to rely on such surgical precision when they welcome the Broncos to Foxboro on Sunday night, but they may have to -- especially if there's any slippage in their generally underrated defense.
7 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 10
Andy Dalton in October: 121 completions in 184 attempts for 1,584 yards (8.61 yards per attempt), 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Andy Dalton in November: 37 completions in 78 attempts for 367 yards (4.71 yards per attempt), five touchdowns and five interceptions. Marvin Lewis and the Bengals defense would very much like Mr. Dalton to make up his mind as to what kind of quarterback he would like to be.
8 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 12
CBS analyst and former NFL quarterback Phil Simms said this past week that if he could take any NFL coach and be that coach's quarterback, it would be Chicago's Marc Trestman. Certainly, Trestman has things rolling with Chicago's offense, whether it's Jay Cutler or Josh McCown under center. A relatively easy remaining schedule might have the Bears pulling away in the NFC North.
9 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 9
There are currently three one-loss teams in the NFL, and the Colts have provided two of those teams (Seattle, Denver) with those losses. Indy could also knock off the one-loss Chiefs on Dec. 22. In the meantime, and with the AFC South pretty much theirs, the Colts must figure out how to fix Trent Richardson. The man who cost general manager Ryan Grigson his 2014 first-round pick has been an unmitigated bust to date, and the Colts must be wary of trying to validate that trade at the expense of their offense.
10 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 8
The 49ers rank dead last in passing yards (168 yards per game), and in his last two games, Colin Kaepernick has averaged 4.11 yards per passing attempt. More than the bogus call on Ahmad Brooks that may have cost them the Saints game, the passing attack (or lack thereof) is the thing that should worry Jim Harbaugh the most.
11 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 11
Every season it seems that there's one team that jumps out of the woods in the last month to take a division and scare the daylights out of its potential postseason opponents. Right now, the Eagles look to be the NFL's best bet. Nick Foles still hasn't thrown a pick this season, defensive coordinator Billy Davis is mixing scheme and personnel in ways that have shown definite improvement and the NFC East is a lukewarm dumpster fire.
12 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 7
If you were wondering when Lions head coach Jim Schwartz would make his first ... "interesting" decision of the 2013 season, wonder no more. Schwartz called for a disastrous fake field goal in his team's 37-27 loss to the Steelers on Sunday, and defended it for all it was worth. The Lions have all the talent in the world, especially on offense, but one always wonders when their impulse control will get the better of them.
13 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 16
The Cards have won three straight, and they might be a playoff contender if they were in any division other than the NFC West. That record is a bit of a mirage, though -- those three victories came over the Texans, Falcons and Jaguars, the bottom three teams in our current Power Rankings. Still, it's something to build on, and Todd Bowles' defense is talented and opportunistic.
14 New York Giants
Last Week: 18
Six straight losses, then four straight wins. What's the difference for the Giants? Try a defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown pass since Week 6. They've faced a string of backup quarterbacks in that time, but the G-Men can prove their improvement against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
15 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 15
During their bye, the Cowboys had to watch the Eagles take sole possession of the NFC East and wonder if it isn't too late for them to catch up. They've beaten all three of their division opponents already, and have the opportunity to make up some more ground starting this upcoming Sunday against the Giants.
16 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 14
Little surprise that the Packers have lost both games in which Aaron Rodgers has not been able to play due to a broken collarbone. Mike McCarthy has already said that Scott Tolzien will start against the Minnesota Vikings, and this means that a defense which has been tailspinning all season must reinforce itself.
17 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 19
The Rams could easily be 5-5 or 6-4 but for a couple of missed opportunities, and things get tougher for them down the stretch. The only losing team they face in their last six games is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who currently look as tough as any 2-8 team can be. It could be time for a countdown to the 2014 draft, and all sorts of potentially interesting quarterback decisions.
18 New York Jets
Last Week: 13
Good Geno or Bad Geno? The Jets got the worst possible version in their 37-14 loss to the Bills. Smith completed just 8-of-23 passes and threw three interceptions as Rex Ryan's team continued to alternate wins and losses. They will hope that trend continues against the Ravens next Sunday, but a Jets team that looked very playoff friendly a few weeks ago is starting to show leaks.
19 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 22
Like the Giants, the Steelers have gone on a nice run following a horrid start. Now a game out of the wild-card race after beginning the season 0-4, Pittsburgh has just one opponent down the stretch (Cincinnati) that currently has a winning record. Keeping Ben Roethlisberger protected in frequent no-huddle sets and finding a way to turn its defense around? These are Mike Tomlin's primary tasks if his team is to be relevant in December.
20 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 17
The Ravens couldn't pull out a win in Chicago last Sunday, but seeing Ray Rice get back on track was a worthy consolation prize. Rice, who had been held to 36 or fewer yards on the ground in six games this season, broke out for 131 yards on 25 carries. Now, the next step is to keep Joe Flacco protected and away from making the wrong kinds of decisions.
21 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 25
Who woulda thunk it? Matt McGloin became the first undrafted rookie quarterback since at least 1967 to register three touchdowns and no interceptions in his starting debut, a 28-23 win over the reeling Texans. Head coach Dennis Allen hasn't yet decided (at least publicly) whether McGloin will be his starting quarterback in favor of Terrelle Pryor going forward, but those in the organization who would prefer McGloin certainly got some evidence for their case on Sunday.
22 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 20
On Oct. 20, the Chargers were 4-3 after a 24-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they looked like a possible playoff contender. But three straight losses since their bye seem to have proven that recovering from years of mistakes by former general manager A.J. Smith may take more than a season. A league-worst defense will have to make significant improvement before this team can be taken seriously.
23 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 27
Are the Bills ready for prime time? Perhaps not, but head coach Doug Marrone was certainly happy to see rookie quarterback EJ Manuel enjoy his best game to date Sunday against the New York Jets. Manuel completed 20-of-28 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns, looking every bit like the first-round pick he was.
24 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 26
Yes, believe it or not, the Dolphins have an outside shot at the playoffs, even as NFL investigators interview key people in the front office for evidence in the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito controversy. But they've been living on borrowed time with a patchwork offensive line, and Ryan Tannehill will certainly need to be more consistent and productive if Miami is to go over the .500 mark for the first time since Oct. 6. Their next opponent: The red-hot Panthers.
25 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 24
If the Browns are able to get their quarterback situation together in 2014, watch out. The defense has made great strides under new coordinator Ray Horton -- Cleveland currently allows the fewest yards per offensive play (4.4) in the NFL.
26 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 21
It's a shame that the Titans' season is going down the drain, because a few impressive individual performances are going unnoticed. Cornerback Alterraun Verner has the second-best opponent passer rating in the NFL, and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has been as disruptive as any interior lineman.
27 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 23
Maybe the Eagles defense knew what was coming last Sunday, as Robert Griffin III intimated after Washington's 24-16 loss. Still, as dysfunctional as Washington's offense has been at times this season, it's Jim Haslett's awful defense that will keep this team from another mad rush to the playoffs in the second half of the season.
28 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 31
Amazing what a couple of wins can do. After their overtime loss to the Seahawks on Nov. 3, the 0-8 Bucs could have easily tanked for a coach they didn't seem to believe in. However, Tampa Bay has racked up two straight victories since then, and now, there's talk that Greg Schiano's highly disciplined way of doing things might actually be a positive root cause.

"I guess you could say, 'Where was that earlier in the year?'" defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said after Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons. "But you don't want to look in the past."
29 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 28
If head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman are fired after the 2013 season, their cause of unemployment will be a common one. In today's NFL, you cannot whiff on a first-round quarterback and expect to survive. The Vikings have done just that in Christian Ponder, selected 12th overall in the 2011 draft, and they don't seem to know what to do with Josh Freeman, the 2009 first-rounder of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who hasn't shown anything at all since he was acquired off the street.
30 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 32
Have the Jags moved from historically horrible to potentially interesting? It would appear to be so. They couldn't keep up with the Cardinals last Sunday after upsetting the Tennessee Titans the week before, but they did manage to score 43 points in a five-quarter stretch in those two games, good for 33 percent of their season total (129).
31 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 30
Certainly, nobody expected this. At this time last year, the Falcons were 9-1, and looking for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, which they got. It seems as if nothing has gone right for this franchise since the conference championship loss to the 49ers -- injuries, poor draft picks and situational breakdowns have led to the most disappointing season in Atlanta since Bobby Petrino turned tail and left town. Owner Arthur Blank has said that head coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff will be back next year to try to turn things around, which may or may not come as consolation to shocked Falcons fans.
32 Houston Texans
Last Week: 29
Perhaps the nadir of the Texans' horrible season came last Sunday, when head coach Gary Kubiak benched quarterback Case Keenum in the third quarter of the team's loss to the Raiders. The switch to Matt Schaub wasn't warranted based on performance, and the loss ended with Schaub and franchise receiver Andre Johnson having to answer questions about their sideline shouting match. The Texans have lost eight straight games, and there isn't a less impressive team in pro football right now.

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