By Don Banks
December 01, 2010

We're getting our first snowfall of the season here in Wisconsin as I work my way through this week's NFL power rankings, and that must mean it's time for those big, divisional showdowns that we love to hype once December rolls around.

We've got some doozys in Week 13. Legitimately pivotal games that will go a long way toward shaping the playoff field: Pittsburgh at Baltimore Sunday night, the Jets at New England Monday night, and Atlanta at Tampa Bay late Sunday afternoon. That's five first-place teams and a scrappy and surprising playoff contender going head to head over the course of about 32 hours. Not bad for the first weekend of the regular season's final month, and there's more where that came from thanks to the NFL back-loading its schedule with so many divisional matchups this year. Let's hope it's a December to remember.

Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings, Week 13
1 New England <a href=Patriots" title="New England Patriots">
Last Week: 1
I suppose the Jets can go ahead and study the tape of their Week 2 game against the Patriots for whatever they might glean from it, but that New England offense really doesn't exist any more. In that 28-14 New York win, Randy Moss scored a touchdown, Kevin Faulk was the Patriots' leading rusher, and Stephen Gostkowski was doing the kicking for New England. Then again, I don't blame the Jets for not being eager to watch what the Patriots of recent vintage just did to the Steelers, Colts and Lions the past three weeks.
2 New York <a href=Jets" title="New York Jets">
Last Week: 2
Though they come into their season-defining showdown with the Patriots 9-1 in their past 10 games, the Jets really can't afford to lose this one and still expect to earn anything better than the AFC's fifth seed in the playoffs. That's because New York still has road games left at Pittsburgh and Chicago in Weeks 15-16, making for a brutal December that Rex Ryan's team is about to embark upon. New York's next four games are all against teams that currently have winning records.
3 Atlanta <a href=Falcons" title="Atlanta Falcons">
Last Week: 3
The Falcons for more than four decades couldn't manage to record consecutive winning seasons, and now rather quietly they have rung up three in a row under the astute leadership of Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith. Since the disaster known as Bobby Petrino quit on them 13 games into the forgettable 2007 season, the Falcons are 30-16 in the regular season, tied with New Orleans for the best record in the NFC over that 46-game span. Well that's certainly deserving of a big Wooooo, pig, sooie! chant.
4 Baltimore <a href=Ravens" title="Baltimore Ravens">
Last Week: 7
Pittsburgh and Baltimore simply do not play games that feature one team dominating the other. Since the start of the Joe Flacco era in 2008, the Ravens and Steelers have met six times, with those games being decided by margins of three in overtime, four, nine, three in overtime, three, and three points. Pittsburgh has won four times, and Baltimore twice. How can it be anything but another razor-thin margin Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium?
5 New Orleans <a href=Saints" title="New Orleans Saints">
Last Week: 8
Tell me again how much the Saints offense missed Reggie Bush, who returned to the lineup last week in Dallas after missing eight games with a fractured fibula. He never really got a handle on the ball all day against the Cowboys, and nearly gave the game away. He's known for instant impact, but none of it was of the positive variety in his long-awaited return. If and when I figure out my all-overrated team, Bush will be my starting running back.
6 Pittsburgh <a href=Steelers" title="Pittsburgh Steelers">
Last Week: 4
The Steelers defense can be fearsome, and you can't discount a Ben Roethlisberger-led offense. But I'm starting to have my doubts about the team Peter King picked to go all the way. Pittsburgh has lost to Baltimore, New Orleans and New England, three legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Other than beating visiting Atlanta in overtime in the opener, who has Pittsburgh handled that makes you think they're Dallas-bound?
7 Green Bay <a href=Packers" title="Green Bay Packers">
Last Week: 5
Now about my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, I really can't see the Packers making me look prescient if Aaron Rodgers is going to be their leading rusher some weeks, as he was in the three-point loss to the Falcons in Atlanta (12 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown). You don't have to be "balanced'' to win in the NFL any more, but there are times in games when you have to be a threat to run the ball.
8 Chicago <a href=Bears" title="Chicago Bears">
Last Week: 12
The impressive win over the Eagles was clearly the high point of this surprisingly successful season in Chicago, but there's some very heavy lifting still to be done. Road games at Detroit, Minnesota and Green Bay loom, and two home games remain against New England and the Jets. The Bears just need two of those five games to go their way, and Lovie Smith likely will have delivered a very clutch playoff berth with his job on the line.
9 Philadelphia <a href=Eagles" title="Philadelphia Eagles">
Last Week: 7
The NFC East is clearly not the division it used to be. For five years in a row, and 10 of the past 12 seasons, the East has sent at least two teams to the playoffs. But the streak looks in jeopardy this year, with both the Eagles and Giants looking to find some consistency as the final month of the season dawns.
10 San Diego <a href=Chargers" title="San Diego Chargers">
Last Week: 14
I was tempted to jack up the Chargers higher than this, because I think they could beat almost anyone at this point. But with five winnable games just ahead, including three in a row at home, there's time for San Diego's inevitable late-season rise to top-five status. Do you realize the Chargers haven't lost a regular-season game in December or January since New Year's Eve 2005, a streak of 19 in a row? It's the best time of the year to be a Bolts fan.
11 Kansas City <a href=Chiefs" title="Kansas City Chiefs">
Last Week: 13
I think we all owe a bit of a mea culpa to Matt Cassel. If he's just a "system'' quarterback who thrived in New England in 2008 because of who he had around him, how do you explain the 21 touchdowns and two interceptions he has thrown in his past nine games in Kansas City? Chalk up another one for the science of NFL drafting. Cassel, the collegiate backup and seventh-round pick out of USC, is a star. Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, Heisman winners from USC, they're not doing so well this season.
12 Indianapolis <a href=Colts" title="Indianapolis Colts">
Last Week: 9
No 12-win season for Indy this time, and that hasn't happened since 2002. But a 9-7 might still win the AFC South and give them a first-round home game in the playoffs. The Colts just better hope they don't run into the Chargers again if they do make into January's Super Bowl tournament.
13 Tampa Bay <a href=Buccaneers" title="Tampa Bay Buccaneers">
Last Week: 10
The Bucs are the league's only seven-win team that has managed to be outscored (223-219), and that speaks to their inability to get the job done this season when they were fighting above their weight class. But I think they've got an upset in them at some point in the coming five weeks, and this week's home date with the NFC-best 9-2 Falcons represents a prime opportunity.
14 New York <a href=Giants" title="New York Giants">
Last Week: 11
The Giants got their turnover problem fixed in the comeback victory over the Jaguars, winning a replay challenge to negate their only giveaway (a Derek Hagan fumble) of the game. But the slow starts are going to kill New York eventually. Kevin Gilbride's offense has gone three straight games without a first-half touchdown, and if the Giants have any hope of stealing the Jets' thunder with a playoff run of their own next month, they had better start putting two good halves together.
15 Jacksonville <a href=Jaguars" title="Jacksonville Jaguars">
Last Week: 15
At the moment, our two No. 4 seeds in the playoffs would be the 6-5 Jaguars in the AFC and the 5-6 Rams in the NFC. And to think of all the time we waste working on our season previews and rolling out our big NFL predictions column.
16 Miami <a href=Dolphins" title="Miami Dolphins">
Last Week: 19
Not to say that the rush to judgment when it comes to injury reports is at an alltime high, but wasn't it just the other day that Chad Henne was said to be out for the season after he was hurt in Miami's win over Tennessee? Maybe not. Henne threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in Oakland on Sunday, and I'm guessing some fantasy owners had already unloaded him by then.
17 St. Louis <a href=Rams" title="St. Louis Rams">
Last Week: 23
Ah, the NFC West, where a team can win its first road game of the season in Week 12 and use that to vault itself into first place as December arrives. But I predict road win No. 2 is just ahead for the resurgent Rams, who visit the chaotic Cardinals this Sunday.
18 Houston <a href=Texans" title="Houston Texans">
Last Week: 24
The middle of our power rankings are so chock full of mediocrity and the morass of 6-5 and 5-6 teams that a single convincing win like Houston's 20-0 blanking of Tennessee can propel the Texans up six big notches to No. 18. This might be the one season that Houston simply can't avoid staying in the AFC South race until the very end.
19 Washington <a href=Redskins" title="Washington Redskins">
Last Week: 18
Just another maddening season in Washington. The Redskins have beaten three quality teams (Philadelphia, Green Bay and Chicago) and lost to four clubs that currently have losing records (Houston, St. Louis, Detroit and Minnesota). And for a guy who's supposedly an offensive genius, Mike Shanahan has by far the lowest-scoring outfit in the NFC East.
20 Tennessee <a href=Titans" title="Tennessee Titans">
Last Week: 16
Literally nothing has gone right for the Titans since I pointed out that they were the league's second-highest scoring team and did a story on how their offense was so much more dangerous than just Chris Johnson this season. Could there be an jinx?
21 Oakland <a href=Raiders" title="Oakland Raiders">
Last Week: 17
Have we ever seen a big season head south faster than Darren McFadden's? The Raiders top rusher averaged 84.1 yards rushing per game through Oakland's first nine games. In his past two games, McFadden has run 18 times for 16 yards. I know he's not completely healthy, but in the loss to Miami, McFadden had the improbable line of eight carries for two yards, with a long gain of six.
22 Seattle <a href=Seahawks" title="Seattle Seahawks">
Last Week: 20
You can't win the NFC West this season if you can't win at home, and the Seahawks have suddenly been trounced twice in a row at Qwest Field. A visit from Carolina this week should help restore some order on that front, but Seattle's hopeful 4-2 start feels like a very long time ago.
23 Cleveland <a href=Browns" title="Cleveland Browns">
Last Week: 22
If I suggested the NFL's most valuable Peyton this season was the running back in Cleveland rather than the quarterback in Indianapolis, would anyone have a major beef to make about it?
24 Minnesota <a href=Vikings" title="Minnesota Vikings">
Last Week: 26
I can almost see it now: The refocused Vikings win their final six games in a row under interim head coach Leslie Frazier, missing the playoffs but finishing with a winning record and a burst of hope-inspiring momentum for 2011. Why, it might almost be enough to entice a certain quarterback to reconsider his retirement plans. No, no, no, no, no!
25 Dallas <a href=Cowboys" title="Dallas Cowboys">
Last Week: 3-8
Why is it that Roy Williams and about 78 percent of all ballcarriers these days refuse to believe anyone might be approaching from behind with the intent of stripping the ball away from them? I mean, it's only a move you see featured on SportsCenter highlights about 12 times a week, every week of the football season. Who knew?
26 Buffalo <a href=Bills" title="Buffalo Bills">
Last Week: 25
That was a close one, but if the Bills intend to hang in there and take their best shot in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, they can't be flirting with victory like they did last week at home against Pittsburgh. I think Bills fans owe Stevie Johnson a word of thanks.
27 49ers">49ers/">49ers_50.png" alt="San Francisco 49ers" title="San Francisco 49ers">
Last Week: 27
49ers/">San Francisco 49ers (4-7)
Beating up on the sleepwalking Cardinals on Monday didn't show me much. Let's see if Mike Singletary's still-breathing 49ers can go into frosty Lambeau Field and make a game of it against Green Bay.
28 Detroit <a href=Lions" title="Detroit Lions">
Last Week: 29
It's payback time for the Lions this week at home against the first-place Bears. Week 1 in Chicago is where all this season's excruciatingly close calls began for Detroit. I know Calvin Johnson will be trying to find the end zone a time or two. And I don't think he'll go to the ground if he can avoid it.
29 Denver <a href=Broncos" title="Denver Broncos">
Last Week: 28
Josh McDaniels' Broncos gave up a combined 95 points in a pair of home losses to the Raiders and Rams this season. That would pass as a firing offense in some NFL cities.
30 Arizona <a href=Cardinals" title="Arizona Cardinals">
Last Week: 30
Me thinks Derek Anderson doth protest too much that he wasn't laughing on the sideline Monday night. And who really cares how hard you work every week, D.A.? Almost every starting quarterback in the NFL works hard. But most of them also play better than you did against San Francisco.
31 Carolina <a href=Panthers" title="Carolina Panthers">
Last Week: 32
I've got some family that lives in Charlotte, and though they are football fans, they haven't said one word to me about the Panthers all season. I can't really blame them. What can you say about a team whose owner decided to punt on the season back in March?
32 Cincinnati <a href=Bengals" title="Cincinnati Bengals">
Last Week: 31
I'm dropping the Bengals to rock bottom this week. Maybe that'll get their attention and spur them on to snapping that eight-game losing streak. With the streaking Saints of New Orleans coming to town, Cincy needs any and all motivational help it can get.

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