By Chris Burke
December 04, 2013
Cam Newton and the Panthers (9-3) will take on the Saints (9-3) in a battle for NFC South supremacy this weekend.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
NFL Power Rankings
1 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 1
An insanely loud home crowd only gets you so far -- the 2011 Seahawks, for example, finished 4-4 at home with Tarvaris Jackson as their QB. As proven by Monday's destruction of the Saints, this year's team has the talent to match that intensity. It will take a perfect playoff effort from some visiting team to keep the Seahawks from the Super Bowl.
2 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 4
The Panthers have not won a playoff game since 2005 and have not won a home playoff game since 2003. If they can beat the Saints this Sunday, they'll likely have a shot to end both droughts after a first-round bye.
3 New England Patriots
Last Week: 3
The Tom Brady-led Patriots may not live or die based on who's at running back. But who's going to be the go-to guy there if New England needs to grind out the clock in the postseason? The carry totals over the past four weeks: LeGarrette Blount 24, Shane Vereen 21, Stevan Ridley 17, Brandon Bolden 16.
4 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 5
Speaking of running backs, don't sleep on that Montee Ball performance Sunday in Kansas City. He rolled for 117 yards against a really good defense, and even if you take out a 45-yard scamper, he averaged 6.0 yards per carry. Knowshon Moreno probably cried gigantic tears of joy at the unexpected backfield help.
5 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 7
The 49ers' only losses since mid-September are to Carolina (by one) and at New Orleans (by three). Especially with Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham back on the field, no one wants to see the 49ers in the playoffs.
6 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 2
Very rare has been the game where Drew Brees looked as out of sorts as he did Monday in Seattle. The Saints' dramatic home/road splits -- 33.1 points per game and a 6-0 mark at home; 18.3 and 3-3 away -- should have them concerned with at least one road playoff game looming.
7 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 9
The latest evidence that Nick Foles and the Eagles offense are just sort of toying with the opposition right now: Zach Ertz's two-score showing Sunday was the first multi-TD game from an Eagles' tight end since Chad Lewis on Dec. 30, 2001.
8 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 8
The defense held a dangerous San Diego offense to 10 points Sunday while forcing three turnovers. That's the level of play Cincinnati will need moving forward, because it is hard to envision Andy Dalton outdueling Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or even Andrew Luck in the playoffs.
9 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 6
Alex Smith played a pretty strong game in Sunday's loss to Denver, just as he did in a Week 12 setback against San Diego. So is it good news or bad news for the Chiefs that Smith is not their most pressing concern right now?
10 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 11
That the Cowboys are 4-0 against the NFC East, including a win over division co-leader Philadelphia, bodes pretty well considering they close with games against the Redskins and Eagles.
11 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 16
OK, it took some doing but the reigning champs are back to .500 and in the AFC's top six. A closing stretch of at Detroit, vs. New England, at Cincinnati means Baltimore will have to earn an invite to the dance.
12 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 12
Thanks goodness for the Titans, because the Colts are looking pretty rough right now, aside from more or less sewing up the division. The offensive line is regressing at a startling rate.
13 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 17
The Lions' holiday win over Green Bay was both critical and cathartic. On top of taking control of the NFC North, the Lions snapped a five-game losing streak against the Packers and a nine-game Thanksgiving Day skid.
14 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 10
Carson Palmer picked a poor time to go all Carson Palmer on the Cardinals. He fumbled on Arizona's opening possession on Sunday, threw a pick on the second, then tossed another INT later. The loss didn't end Arizona's playoff chances, but it served a massive blow.
15 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 24
The Dolphins picked a great year to be an average or slightly-above-average team in the AFC. Three more wins almost certainly would get them into the playoffs. Two might do the trick.
16 New York Giants
Last Week: 22
Looking back on it now, the Giants' first six games were as close to unfair scheduling as the NFL gets. The worst team, record-wise, from that group of teams New York lost to en route to 0-6: Chicago, which is 6-6 and might be atop the NFC North had Jay Cutler not been injured.
17 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 13
In another division, who knows. The Rams solidified their spot Sunday as the fourth-best team in arguably football's toughest division. There's no shame in that, but St. Louis still has ground to cover.
18 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 18
The QB dilemma only matters so much when the defense cannot hold a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead on Minnesota. In the words of that new ad featuring a pair of Bears legends, that's pretty ri-Ditka-lous.
19 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 14
Even with their loss to the Ravens last week, the Steelers have a legitimate chance at the playoffs. Three of their final four are at home, with a road trip to struggling Green Bay. But bad omen: Pittsburgh has missed the playoffs each of the past seven times it's finished with fewer than 10 wins.
20 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 19
Even after a shaky 23-of-37 showing versus Cincinnati, Philip Rivers remains within striking distance of Drew Brees' single-season record for completion percentage -- Rivers sits at an even 70 percent; Brees finished at 71.2. Of course, Brees' Saints also hung 547 points on the board that season (2011). The Chargers are on pace for just 372.
21 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 20
Tennessee had two chances in three weeks to put some heat on the Colts. Instead, the Titans might find themselves in third place by the end of a Week 16 trip to Jacksonville.
22 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 28
Don't look now, but Adrian Peterson's up over 1,200 yards rushing on the season after posting a combined 357 over the past two weeks -- a tie in Green Bay and an OT win over Chicago. He's once again in command of the league rushing race, with a 120-yard edge on LeSean McCoy.
23 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 15
The Packers sans Aaron Rodgers have taken on a 2011 Colts-without-Peyton Manning look. They're now 0-4-1 without their leader, but the problems are myriad at spots other than QB. A 40-10 loss to Detroit was pretty close to a total team meltdown.
24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 21
Mike Glennon was due for an off game or two, but there's not a lot of wiggle room for this Tampa Bay offense right now. Sunday's showing in Carolina was the seventh time this year it's failed to accumulate 300 yards in a game.
25 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 29
No idea what Jacksonville did during its Week 9 bye, but "1980s-style training montage" comes to mind given the results afterward: Jacksonville's 3-1 since then and has a legitimate shot to finish with six or seven wins.
26 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 31
Nice to see you again, Roddy White. The veteran receiver, who has struggled to stay healthy during this miserable Falcons season, caught 10 passes Sunday -- that matches half his total from the first 12 weeks of the season.
27 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 23
The Bills have an agreement to play one game per year in Toronto through 2017, but they may want to reconsider. Sunday's loss to Atlanta dropped them to 1-5 in regular-season games there, and the crowd of 38,969 was the smallest for the event since a 2010 preseason matchup with Indianapolis.
28 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 26
Three straight losses, then the Browns had to go out and sign Caleb Hanie with Jason Campbell banged up. Playing quarterback for this team is about as safe as jumping on the Simpsons' backyard trampoline.
29 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 27
In his three starts this season, Matt McGloin has been sacked an average of 0.67 times per games. Terrelle Pryor, in his eight outings: 3.6 sacks per game.
30 New York Jets
Last Week: 25
Twenty-three teams scored 20 or more points in Week 13. The reeling Jets have 20 points total over their past three games, predictably all losses, including a nightmarish 23-3 setback Sunday against the Dolphins.
31 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 30
There were hundreds of tickets to Washington's Sunday nighter available for less than $10 on the secondary market. Hard to blame the fans for tuning out this team, as it's followed up last season's thrilling run to the NFC East title by going through the motions for three months.
32 Houston Texans
Last Week: 32
They're streaking toward the No. 1 pick, but the Texans are due to get a win here sometime. Their past six losses have come by a grand total of 22 points. So maybe hold off on buying that Teddy Bridgewater jersey, random Texans fan.

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