By Don Banks
November 07, 2012

The season's second half is here, and that means the games grow more meaningful by the week (at least for teams with winning records), and the showdowns get bigger and more anticipated. We've got a couple juicy ones coming up in the next two weeks: 7-1 Houston at 7-1 Chicago on Sunday night, and the Bears at the 49ers">49ers on the Monday night of Week 11.

After that, Thanksgiving weekend looms, with a Packers-at-Giants Sunday night matchup highlighting the football-filled holiday schedule. In the NFC at least, those three games will go a long way toward sorting out the conference's elite class and top tier. It still looks like an NFC-dominated year to me, with only the Texans cracking our top six teams in the power rankings. But keep an eye on the Steelers, Broncos and Patriots, all of whom look poised to make some noise in the second half.

Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1 Atlanta <a href=Falcons" title="Atlanta Falcons">
Last Week: 1
The Falcons won't have any trouble finding the motivation to bring their best against the struggling Saints this week at the Superdome. I'm pretty sure they still recall last Dec. 26, when Drew Brees kept throwing the ball despite a huge New Orleans lead, in order to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record at home. It rankled Atlanta then, and it rankles Atlanta now.
2 Houston <a href=Texans" title="Houston Texans">
Last Week: 3
Last time the Texans faced a statement game against a quality NFC North opponent in prime time, they were struck mute. If they couldn't beat Green Bay in Houston, how much better will things go Sunday night in Chicago? I'll let you know, because that's the obvious game of the week, and I'll be on hand to witness it at that big spaceship they call the new Soldier Field.
3 Chicago <a href=Bears" title="Chicago Bears">
Last Week: 5
The tougher half of the Bears' schedule starts now, with Texans this week, at 49ers next week, and games against Seattle, Green Bay and Detroit still looming. But Chicago has four of its next six at home, and by the time the Bears get to their two-game season-ending road trip to Arizona and Detroit, they might well have a playoff berth and maybe even their postseason seed locked up.
4 49ers/">49ers_50.png" alt="San Francisco 49ers" title="San Francisco 49ers">
Last Week: 4
49ers/">San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
The 49ers, when not facing the Giants, have their old vaunted homefield advantage back. The one that told visiting teams it wasn't going to be their day good and early in most games. San Francisco comes off its bye to play host to the Rams and Bears in the coming two weeks, and a win over St. Louis will further the 49ers' drive to put a stranglehold on the NFC West for a second consecutive season.
5 New York <a href=Giants" title="New York Giants">
Last Week: 2
Giants fans have every reason to wonder if another second-half swoon began with that sloppy and flat performance against visiting Pittsburgh, because history shows New York has been almost annually prone to cooling off come November in the Tom Coughlin era. But seriously, who's catching the G-Men in the NFC East? The Cowboys, Eagles or Redskins? Those three division rivals are a combined 2-12 in their most recent 14 games, and that means the Giants might be practically bullet-proof in the NFC East this season. And I don't mean that in a Plaxico Burress sense.
6 Green Bay <a href=Packers" title="Green Bay Packers">
Last Week: 6
Randall Cobb and James Jones have been huge in helping Green Bay make up for the absence of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, but the Packers seem to always be short of bodies and in band-aid mode on the health front. Not that it really seems to be bothering Aaron Rodgers, whose stats are starting to separate him once again from mere mortal quarterbacks. But a little rest and recuperation time in this week's bye is exactly what Green Bay needs.
7 New England <a href=Patriots" title="New England Patriots">
Last Week: 7
The Patriots head into their second half with decent momentum, and I'll be surprised if there's more than two losses ahead over the final eight games. Doing the math, that would put New England at 11-5 and once again ruling the AFC East as Bill Belichick and crew take yet another shot at earning that elusive fourth ring.
8 Denver <a href=Broncos" title="Denver Broncos">
Last Week: 8
It isn't all the Peyton Manning show in Denver, just in case you haven't noticed. Von Miller and the Broncos' aggressive defense will have something to say about how far Denver goes come January. If you can rush the passer in this league, you have a chance to beat anyone.
9 Pittsburgh <a href=Steelers" title="Pittsburgh Steelers">
Last Week: 10
The best news for the Steelers is they were supposedly incapable of winning much when all-world safety Troy Polamalu is out of the lineup. Another piece of conventional wisdom turned on its head by the recent Pittsburgh hot streak. And while we're at it, funny how no one thinks the Steelers look old on defense when they're winning.
10 Baltimore <a href=Ravens" title="Baltimore Ravens">
Last Week: 9
The Ravens desperately need a strong, crisp home-field showing against Oakland this week in advance of their pivotal Week 11 trip to Pittsburgh. The confidence has to be lacking a bit in Baltimore, but the Ravens at home are usually the team that plays with a swagger and moxie they can't seem to duplicate on the road.
11 Indianapolis <a href=Colts" title="Indianapolis Colts">
Last Week: 12
Did you see where Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck have thrown for exactly the same amount of yards so far through eight games: 2,404, with both teams being 5-3 and in the AFC playoff field at the moment? I've got chills. That's almost too freaky to explain. Talk about your win-win situations. Denver is thrilled to have Manning, Indy is thrilled to have Luck. And both gambles have paid off spectacularly, and quickly.
12 Seattle <a href=Seahawks" title="Seattle Seahawks">
Last Week: 14
If the Seahawks can run the table at home this season, where they're 4-0 so far, they'll make the playoffs as a wild card. I like their chances, with only one home game remaining against a team that currently has a winning record (Week 16 versus San Francisco). And that late-season showdown with the 49ers might wind up being more important to Seattle in the standings than it is to San Francisco.
13 Miami <a href=Dolphins" title="Miami Dolphins">
Last Week: 11
The Dolphins played Indy tough in the first half, but they just ran into an inspired Colts team that has a bit more mojo going for it at this point. A visit from Tennessee this week should be just the tonic Miami needs to get back on the happy side of .500.
14 Tampa Bay <a href=Buccaneers" title="Tampa Bay Buccaneers">
Last Week: 20
When the Bucs went a month between victories early this season, it appeared Greg Schiano's first season in Tampa Bay would be about taking baby steps. But that was then, this is now, and the Bucs have won three of their past four and look like a dangerous team entering the second half. This week the Chargers visit, and I've got a hunch Vincent Jackson might be primed and poised to do some damage to his former team.
15 Detroit <a href=Lions" title="Detroit Lions">
Last Week: 17
Now this is the multi-faceted offense the Lions thought they could count on week in and week out this season. Calvin Johnson returned to prominence against Jacksonville, Mikel Leshoure went nuts for his fantasy owners in the first half against the Jags, and Ryan Broyles is starting to really make an impact.
16 Minnesota <a href=Vikings" title="Minnesota Vikings">
Last Week: 13
Christian Ponder's second season is the perfect example of why it's difficult to be definitive about anything in the NFL any more. For the first month, he looked like one of the league's best young quarterbacks and was on his way to a breakthrough season. But in the second month, he looked lost and not up to the task of playing the franchise quarterback role. So what will we be saying about Ponder in another seven weeks or so? The Vikings have to have some patience here and ride out his swoon to really know what they have.
17 San Diego <a href=Chargers" title="San Diego Chargers">
Last Week: 21
I think I'm overrating these Chargers, putting them on the cusp of being in the league's upper half. What do they really have in the way of signature wins? They've beaten the Chiefs twice, as well as the Raiders and Titans. Yawn. But a win at Tampa Bay this week would get my attention. Let's see if San Diego's funk really ended with that must-win against Kansas City last week.
18 New Orleans <a href=Saints" title="New Orleans Saints">
Last Week: 26
The Eagles moved the ball, but the Saints' defense smothered Michael Vick and made some big plays in the takeaway department. It's going to take New Orleans' best game of the season to knock off the undefeated Falcons this week in the Superdome, but if they can, the Saints are alive in the wild-card chase.
19 Dallas <a href=Cowboys" title="Dallas Cowboys">
Last Week: 15
It just doesn't seem to be happening for Jason Garrett in Dallas. He's a smart guy, and a good enough coach to win, but he can't get his players to stop beating themselves and finding ways to lose when the game is on the line. There's something that needs fixing in Dallas, but I'm stating the ultra obvious.
20 Philadelphia <a href=Eagles" title="Philadelphia Eagles">
Last Week: 16
Remember when Donovan McNabb occasionally would make some of the worst throws you've ever seen, killing some worms with a one-hopper to his outlet receiver, or just drilling the 20-yard line between the 2 and 0? I see Michael Vick doing some of the same stuff this season, and I think it's because he has been drilled so much he's getting antsy from the pass rush. Understandable, I suppose, but he's missing some throws he has to be able to make in his sleep.
21 Arizona <a href=Cardinals" title="Arizona Cardinals">
Last Week: 19
As strong as the Cardinals defense has looked for a good bit this season, Arizona's offensive weaknesses are too much of a burden. Maybe Ken Whisenhunt comes up with some answers during his team's bye week, but with a trip to Atlanta on tap in Week 11, the Cardinals' immediate forecast calls for more failure.
22 St. Louis <a href=Rams" title="St. Louis Rams">
Last Week: 22
Danny Amendola is back this week for the game at San Francisco, and that always helps Sam Bradford look like a better quarterback, with his favorite receiver to target. It won't help enough, mind you. But it'll help.
23 Washington <a href=Redskins" title="Washington Redskins">
Last Week: 18
I happen to think Mike Shanahan spoke the truth when he intimated it was time to look to 2013 for his slumping Redskins, but the shocking thing was, how often do you really hear the unvarnished truth from an NFL head coach during the season? Timing is everything in life, and I'm still surprised a veteran head coach would choose his words that poorly in such a postgame setting. He's right on the facts, but you simply can't say that with seven games left in the regular season.
24 Cincinnati <a href=Bengals" title="Cincinnati Bengals">
Last Week: 23
Four losses in a row, and the Bengals' once-promising season looks rudderless about now. Cincy has forgotten how to win at home, dropping three straight in front of its frustrated fan base. With the Giants in town, this week would be a good time to get back on track, but alas, New York has something to prove of its own after that lackluster showing against the Steelers.
25 New York <a href=Jets" title="New York Jets">
Last Week: 24
If the Jets can't get something going with this two-game road trip through Seattle and St. Louis -- and I don't think they will -- then their Week 12 showdown at home with first-place New England won't wind up meaning all that much any way. It's make or break time for Rex Ryan's puzzling team.
26 Buffalo <a href=Bills" title="Buffalo Bills">
Last Week: 28
The Bills at least made the Texans work a bit for their win last week, but a loss this week at New England and you can probably kiss goodbye any wild-card dreams Buffalo might still be entertaining.
27 Oakland <a href=Raiders" title="Oakland Raiders">
Last Week: 25
Another injury for Darren McFadden. Why do some guys seem to live on the injury list for parts of every season, and some guys escape that fate? That's a pretty heavy question for this far down in the power rankings. I'll get back to you on it when I have more time to ponder it.
28 Cleveland <a href=Browns" title="Cleveland Browns">
Last Week: 29
The Browns had a fourth-quarter lead against Baltimore and looked ready to win their third in a row at home. Then they turned back into the Browns. Just to show new owner Jimmy Haslam that it wasn't all going to be hiccups and giggles in Cleveland.
29 Carolina <a href=Panthers" title="Carolina Panthers">
Last Week: 30
If nothing else, the Panthers' win last week at Washington -- combined with President Obama's re-election -- means we don't have to hear about that whole "Redskins Rule" every fourth year. Now Carolina this week has an even bigger challenge than stopping RGIII: Slowing down Denver and the red-hot Peyton Manning.
30 Tennessee <a href=Titans" title="Tennessee Titans">
Last Week: 27
Bud Adams sounds like he's pretty much seen enough. But how'd you like to be Titans head coach Mike Munchak about now, knowing you've got seven games remaining and the owner has already fired a warning shot over your head? With everyone running scared in the whole organization, good luck keeping the players motivated and focused the rest of the year, Mike.
31 Jacksonville <a href=Jaguars" title="Jacksonville Jaguars">
Last Week: 31
The Jaguars and Chiefs look like they're going to make a real race of it in the full-speed-in-reverse quest for the No. 1 overall pick. If you're wondering, they don't play each other this season, so we're denied one of those silly games where the loser actually wins, and the winner actually loses. If you follow me.
32 Kansas City <a href=Chiefs" title="Kansas City Chiefs">
Last Week: 32
I get what Romeo Crennel was doing this week when he fired himself as defensive coordinator and elevated Gary Gibbs to the role. Less is more sometimes. But if I'm Crennel, I wouldn't have wanted to even give owner Clark Hunt the hint that any part of his head coach was replaceable. Just in case he decided it was an all or nothing proposition.

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