By Don Banks
November 14, 2012

Seven weeks left in the NFL's regular season, but there may not be a ton of suspense remaining. Sorry to break it to you. The playoff field looks pretty well set, even this far out. In the AFC, there are only six teams that have winning records through the first 10 weeks of the season, and my call is they all make the postseason: No. 1 seed Houston, followed by Baltimore, New England, Denver, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

In the NFC, the picture doesn't feature quite so much clarity, but it's close. At the moment there are eight clubs with winning records, with only Minnesota (6-4) and Tampa Bay (5-4) left out of the six-team playoff field if the postseason opened today. That means the pecking order in the NFC would be Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Green Bay and Seattle. Add it all up, and nine of the 12 playoff qualifiers would be repeaters from 2011, giving the league's postseason its most status quo look in a long, long while.

At least that's how it appears from the vantage point of mid-November. But we'll watch anyway, won't we? It's the NFL. Nobody really knows anything for sure, and if they tell you they do, they're lying. Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1 Houston <a href=Texans" title="Houston Texans">
Last Week: 2
Arian Foster has a new biggest fan in Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who said of the Texans' lead running back: "He's a bad ass." Some compliments are more succinct than others, but we concur with Urlacher. The elite runners in the game get the ball when everyone in the stadium knows they're going to get the ball, and they still make their yards. Like Foster, when he rolled for 102 yards rushing and scored the game's only touchdown in Houston's so-ugly-it-was-beautiful 13-6 win at a rainy, windy Soldier Field Sunday night.
2 Atlanta <a href=Falcons" title="Atlanta Falcons">
Last Week: 1
Isn't this where the power ranking handbook calls for trotting out the old axiom about it being good for the Falcons that they got their first loss out of the way and now can concentrate on positioning themselves for a Super Bowl run instead of worrying about the complicating dual proposition of pursuing a perfect season? I thought so. You can only use that one once a year, so it was now or never.
3 Green Bay <a href=Packers" title="Green Bay Packers">
Last Week: 6
With four wins in a row and some key players returning to health after their bye, the Packers strike me as the team to beat in the NFC as we head into the season's back stretch (reminder: Green Bay over Houston was my preseason Super Bowl prediction). I bumped the Packers up three spots this week in anticipation of their strong finish, and also because I think they're better than either the Bears or 49ers">49ers at this point. Aaron Rodgers is locked and loaded, and once Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson get back in the lineup, it will only make him more dangerous.
4 Chicago <a href=Bears" title="Chicago Bears">
Last Week: 3
It was in Week 11 last year that Bears fans watched the season begin to swirl down the drain with quarterback Jay Cutler breaking a thumb in a win over San Diego. That left Chicago with a 7-3 record, en route to an 8-8 finish. Things don't look so dire this time around, but Cutler's concussion last Sunday night must have at least given Chicago a vague sense of deja vu. I like Jason Campbell's chances of piecing together a win or two a lot better than Caleb Hanie's, but the Bears can't expect their backup J.C. to make them anywhere near as potent as their starting J.C.
5 49ers/">49ers_50.png" alt="San Francisco 49ers" title="San Francisco 49ers">
Last Week: 4
49ers/">San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1)
So you don't like ties, huh? Nobody does, but one every four years or so is nothing to get your undies in a bunch over. Back in the day, before regular season overtime came along in 1974, ties were a routine part of the game. The 1932 Bears went 7-1-6, which sounds more like an area code than a record. As recently as 1970, San Diego went 5-6-3. That season, the first in the merger era, every team in the AFC West and NFC West had at least one tie, and four teams had multiple ties. Try selling that concept to modern-age fans with HD flat screens and man caves. They'd never leave home for the in-stadium experience if three ties a year were on tap.
6 Denver <a href=Broncos" title="Denver Broncos">
Last Week: 8
Don't snicker at this until you check their schedule, but I could see the Broncos going from their Week 5 loss at New England to their Week 15 trip to Baltimore without losing. And if they do pull the upset at the Ravens, the Broncos could run the table in the regular season, winning their final 11 games in a row. Remember where you heard that. Unless Denver loses this week at home to San Diego, then I was just talking merely in hypotheticals.
7 New England <a href=Patriots" title="New England Patriots">
Last Week: 7
The Pats know how to make it exciting, eh? Even at Gillette. You can't really leave early to beat the traffic on Route 1, or you just might miss Devin McCourty making a game-saving interception in the end zone or something. This week, in the game I'll cover in Foxboro, we get our first Andrew Luck-Tom Brady matchup, in a battle of No. 12-wearing quarterbacks with franchises on their shoulders. We can only hope it lives up to the Colts-Patriots rivalry of the past decade-plus.
8 Baltimore <a href=Ravens" title="Baltimore Ravens">
Last Week: 10
The Ravens must be living right, to have Ben Roethlisberger bang up his throwing shoulder just before Pittsburgh was set to face Baltimore in two of its next three games. That's pulling a lucky horseshoe out of your tailpipe when you need it most. But that 55-point explosion against the Raiders last week got the Ravens right, too, and should remind them to keep the offensive pedal to the metal when they travel to Heinz Field for this week's big Sunday-night showdown.
9 Pittsburgh <a href=Steelers" title="Pittsburgh Steelers">
Last Week: 9
Be it Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch, the Steelers haven't fared so well when they're missing Big Ben against Baltimore. Whaddaya say, Byron Leftwich? Can you erase the goose egg (0-4) Pittsburgh has against the Ravens when Roethlisberger doesn't start? Once upon a time, Baltimore wanted to land Leftwich, but that 2003 Vikings-Ravens draft-day trade got screwed up and he wound up in Jacksonville. Ah, how the worm turns in the NFL.
10 New York <a href=Giants" title="New York Giants">
Last Week: 5
Tom Coughlin and Phil Simms both kind of knocked Eli Manning's play this week, and that's how quickly a halo can turn into a harpoon in this league. If you're No. 10, the Giants' bye week seems like a good time to get away and let everyone calm down a bit. Two losing weeks can't erase two Super Bowl rings, so let's just all choose our words carefully here before we say something we don't mean.
11 Indianapolis <a href=Colts" title="Indianapolis Colts">
Last Week: 11
Even if they do lose at New England this week, I've got the Colts making the playoffs as an AFC wild card. I love their chances to get to 9-6 going into Week 17 at home against Houston, and if the Texans already have their playoff seed locked up, and they probably will, Indy will have every shot to finish 10-6 and complete an amazing turnaround season in the heartland.
12 Seattle <a href=Seahawks" title="Seattle Seahawks">
Last Week: 12
The Seahawks have three road games remaining to work on their issues away from CenturyLink Field, where they are nigh unbeatable: at Miami, at Chicago and at Buffalo. Two of those look winnable to me, and that could put Seattle into 11-win territory and force San Francisco to put it all on the line to defend its NFC West title in the season's final seven weeks. Who knows, that tie against the Rams may be the 49ers' margin of victory in the division.
13 Tampa Bay <a href=Buccaneers" title="Tampa Bay Buccaneers">
Last Week: 14
With two games against the Falcons remaining, as well as trips to Denver and New Orleans, Bucs fans shouldn't be booking potential playoff-game hotel room packages just yet. But with quarterback Josh Freeman taking great care of the football (no picks in four straight games) and the Bucs logging at least 28 points in a team-record five consecutive games, the future looks even better than the present in Tampa Bay. The Bucs' hiring of Greg Schiano seems an inspired choice, and that means the inevitable pendulum swing back to bringing college coaches to the NFL will continue this offseason (are you listening, Chip Kelly?).
14 Minnesota <a href=Vikings" title="Minnesota Vikings">
Last Week: 16
We almost lost track of Adrian Peterson a bit through the Vikings' tumultuous Favre era, but he's reminding us of his greatness this season with a spectacular comeback from last December's knee injury. This Minnesota team is basically being carried on his back, and it's a pretty comfy place to be if you're the playoff-contending Vikings.
15 New Orleans <a href=Saints" title="New Orleans Saints">
Last Week: 18
I'm impressed by the resiliency the Saints have shown to win four of their past five games after that soul-deadening 0-4 start. Still, to repeat myself, there are eight NFC teams with better records than New Orleans, and three more with the same 4-5 mark, so a playoff berth remains a long shot. That said, you have to love the Saints' chances to climb to .500 this week at Oakland. Everybody but the Raiders win in Oakland.
16 Dallas <a href=Cowboys" title="Dallas Cowboys">
Last Week: 19
The Giants seem determined to let somebody back into the NFC East race, and the Cowboys are better positioned than anyone else to take advantage. With a three-game homestand against losers Cleveland, Washington and Philadelphia just ahead, Dallas will never have a better opportunity to resuscitate its season. Let's see what the Cowboys are made of.
17 Detroit <a href=Lions" title="Detroit Lions">
Last Week: 15
The Lions went 3-3 in the tough NFC North last season and that was good enough to help them on their way to a 10-6 record and their first playoff berth since 1999. But they're 0-3 in the division this year, and they haven't even played Green Bay yet. That's why a follow-up run to the postseason just ain't happening for Jim Schwartz's team this year, and last place is a distinct possibility.
18 Miami <a href=Dolphins" title="Miami Dolphins">
Last Week: 13
Well, it was fun while it lasted in Miami. But starting around halftime of their Week 9 game in Indianapolis, the Dolphins kind of looked around and realized they were afraid of heights. I suppose it was going to happen at some point. After this week's trip to Buffalo, Miami then faces a tough three-game stretch against Seattle, New England, at San Francisco.
19 Cincinnati <a href=Bengals" title="Cincinnati Bengals">
Last Week: 24
Careful, Bengals. A trip to Kansas City this week after the emotional high of knocking off the defending champion Giants at home could prove more problematic than expected. This isn't a Bengals team that has been easy to figure out this season, so a Chiefs upset wouldn't shock me in the least.
20 St. Louis <a href=Rams" title="St. Louis Rams">
Last Week: 22
I'm giving the Rams some props for their moral victory of a tie at San Francisco, but let's be honest, they also found multiple ways to blow a win in that too-ghastly-to-watch overtime period. Jeff Fisher is right. In the long term, that was the kind of performance that will help his young team believe in itself. But in the short term, it was a killer, delivered square in the solar plexis.
21 San Diego <a href=Chargers" title="San Diego Chargers">
Last Week: 17
With all arrows pointing up for the Broncos, and all arrows pointing down for the Chargers, this is not the best time for San Diego to be packing off for Denver, the foe that started the unraveling of Norv Turner's team with that 35-24 comeback win on Monday Night Football in Week 6. Chargers fans probably don't even want to watch the last seven games of this season, because they know in their hearts how the story is going to end. The same way it has each of the past couple years, with a too-little, too-late effort at year's end.
22 Tennessee <a href=Titans" title="Tennessee Titans">
Last Week: 30
You just don't know what you're going to get from Chris Johnson or the Titans from week to week, and that makes it a maddening ride if one roots for Tennessee. I think it's safe to say only this about the Titans: They're not as good as they looked at Miami, and not as bad as they looked at home against Chicago. But clumped somewhere in the great morass of the NFL middle has become a pretty familiar spot for Tennessee.
23 Arizona <a href=Cardinals" title="Arizona Cardinals">
Last Week: 21
I'm guessing that Week 2 upset in New England feels like a million Sundays ago in Arizona these days. Let's see what the Cardinals can do back in the Eastern time zone this week, at Atlanta. Not the ideal time to be heading into the Georgia Dome, with the Falcons tasting defeat for the first time this season a week ago in New Orleans. But at least Arizona is fresh and healthy coming off its bye.
24 Philadelphia <a href=Eagles" title="Philadelphia Eagles">
Last Week: 20
If you're rookie quarterback Nick Foles, you could do worse than making your first start on the road in Washington, where visiting teams often win, and the Redskins defense is depleted by injuries. It's all about the future in Philly at this point, but that future in all likelihood doesn't include Andy Reid and Michael Vick.
25 Washington <a href=Redskins" title="Washington Redskins">
Last Week: 23
The Redskins already might be in next year mode to some degree, but they'll have a pretty big say in who wins the NFC East this year. Five of Washington's final seven games are in the division, starting with Eagles, at Dallas, Giants the next three weeks. I'm curious to see if quarterback Robert Griffin III comes off the bye week refreshed and recharged, or rather is about to hit that rookie wall that so many first-year players speak of, with the long NFL season lasting well past what they were used to in college?
26 Buffalo <a href=Bills" title="Buffalo Bills">
Last Week: 26
And to think we once presumed defense would be the strength of this Bills team in 2012. Those thoughts were but the folly that can come in the summer, before the harsh realities of fall descend and lay waste to another Buffalo season. That's a slightly poetic way of saying the Bills really stink on defense, and we didn't see that coming.
27 New York <a href=Jets" title="New York Jets">
Last Week: 25
It's been a tough go of late for Mark Sanchez. Way too many of his passes have been incomplete, and we're not just talking about his recent split with main squeeze Eva Longoria (see what I did there?). I think we're one more sloppy showing away from Tebow Time in New York.
28 Cleveland <a href=Browns" title="Cleveland Browns">
Last Week: 28
If form holds, this will be the 10th time in 14 seasons since the Browns rejoined the league in 1999 that they finish in last place. For the "new" Browns, the franchise's glory era was 1997-98, when they were already promised a team but didn't actually have to play any games. Those were the days.
29 Oakland <a href=Raiders" title="Oakland Raiders">
Last Week: 27
I think the challenge for Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer this week at home against the Saints is to not look past New Orleans, given that next week's highly anticipated trip back to Cincinnati looms. Palmer and Bengals assistant coach Hue Jackson, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis; the whole gang will be there. That should make for fun reminiscing.
30 Carolina <a href=Panthers" title="Carolina Panthers">
Last Week: 29
Cam Newton is still playing tentatively, and getting his confidence back is job No. 1 in Carolina between now and the end of this miserable season. Say what you will about his struggle of a sophomore season in the NFL, it's a cautionary tale that reminds us past performance is no guarantee of future results.
31 Kansas City <a href=Chiefs" title="Kansas City Chiefs">
Last Week: 32
That "Dance Fever" celebration penalty on the touchdown that didn't count Monday night in Pittsburgh really tells you all you need to know about the state of football in Kansas City these days. The team's highlight film this season should be set to a soundtrack of "Send in the Clowns."
32 Jacksonville <a href=Jaguars" title="Jacksonville Jaguars">
Last Week: 31
You know who the biggest winner in Jacksonville is this season? Wayne Weaver. The former Jags owner dumped this lemon of a franchise just in time.

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