Power Rankings: Patriots in total control; NFC South keeps on sliding
Are we about to enter the best weekend of NFL football this season?
Based on our updated Power Rankings, No. 1 plays No. 2, No. 5 plays No. 6, No. 4 plays No. 10 and No. 7 plays No. 9. And that's on top of several other games featuring teams in the playoff hunt, starting with the Thanksgiving Day opener between NFC North rivals Chicago and Detroit.
Strap on a feedbag, claim a spot on the couch and settle in, because the coming few days could feature some great football.
Before that, though, the latest NFL Power Rankings ...
Have a good run defense? Well, here's a steady dose of Rob Gronkowski. Strong against the pass? Enjoy Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray. No offense in the league is as adept at completely altering its approach week to week than the Patriots, which makes them the most difficult offense to prepare for in the NFL right now.
Hey, look at that. The Packers still can win even when A.) they're on the road; and B.) Aaron Rodgers doesn't throw eleventy-billion touchdown passes. Eddie Lacy, off a 125-yard rushing day, could be the leading X-factor in the Super Bowl race this year. Rodgers has always been formidable, but Green Bay's run to a Super Bowl XLV title would not have happened without RB James Starks complementing him.
Arizona realized their biggest fear in Week 11. The defense played extremely tough (seven sacks of Russell Wilson is a feat in itself) but failed to produce any momentum-changing turnovers, and the offense sputtered in all facets. For now, it's just one game.
That has been the Broncos' November. A fourth-quarter rally against Miami steadied things a great deal. A win in Kansas City this Sunday would clear the skies.
Mark Sanchez now has three starts under his belt, so we're past the wait-and-see window in terms of how he will handle the job. The Eagles are going to have to live with his bouts of inconsistency, just as they did with Nick Foles for the first seven-plus games of 2014. But what happens if Sanchez faces the pressure of having to win his team a game?
The Cowboys' Week 11 rally marked the 23rd career comeback win for Tony Romo -- 17th-most among NFL quarterbacks since 1960 and just one less than the likes of Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Of course, there's the Romo counter-point: Every quarterback above him on that list has more playoff wins than the one Romo owns.
The most positive sign of life from this year's Seattle team? It has forced 10 turnovers in its past five games. Last season, the Seahawks led the league with 39 takeaways; that recent spurt puts them at 15 in '14.
Will have to double-check the math on this but having Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green all healthy and back in the lineup together should help more than the loss of OT Andre Smith will hurt. Should. We'll see.
When was the last time the 49ers played really well? I'm talking, like, Super Bowl threat-level. Week 5 against Kansas City? The last three quarters of Week 6 vs. St. Louis? And yet, here they sit at 7-4, with two games left against Seattle and one against Arizona. It's all there for the taking if San Francisco can flip the switch.
A Thursday night trip to play then-winless Oakland bookmarked by showcase home games against Seattle and Denver was the Trojan Horse of NFL scheduling. The Chiefs fell for it, thereby putting their playoff push in some peril. A loss to the Broncos would make it wild card-or-bust for Andy Reid's team.
Josh Gordon was targeted a whopping 16 times in his return Sunday -- a number four higher than the amount of cars he sold while suspended. If he can step in after several months off and drop 120 yards receiving, opposing defenses ought to be nervous about how he'll look with a couple weeks worth of practice.
Remember how in the movie Dodgeball, Average Joe's figured out that they had to make Gordon angry before he would play well? The Ravens should try that approach with Steve Smith. Not that Smith takes weeks off or anything close to it, but when the veteran wide receiver has a little extra motivation, as he did Monday night against the Saints, he's close to unstoppable.
The first half of Sunday's win over Jacksonville in Indianapolis was about as ugly a display of football as we've seen in 2014. Five turnovers, nine points and a general malaise over the entire proceeding. The Colts woke up in time to get the win, and they should make it two straight this week vs. Washington. At some point, though, they'll have to shift gears if they want to contend in the AFC.
The Lions are allowing 17.3 points per game, the lowest mark in the league. They're scoring 17.9 points per game, 28th best and a little more than one point better than what the winless 2008 Lions managed. There is ... uh ... slightly more talent on this offense than there was on that one, which makes the ongoing buffoonery hard to explain.
Like coming back from vacation to find out your friend forgot to feed your cat, the Steelers could not have been happy to see the AFC North post a perfect 3-0 in Week 12 as they sat on their bye. Pittsburgh may need to sweep its two upcoming games with Cincinnati to claim the division title.
The Dolphins should be higher on this list -- they just pushed Denver to the brink in Week 11 and are three or four plays away from sitting at 9-2. Because they have been unable to make those three or four plays, however, the Dolphins are treading water at 6-5. This could be a dangerous wild-card team, but Miami has to find some way to close out games.
The Chargers may need him down the stretch as much as any team needs any player healthy. Mathews came through with 105 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries Sunday. This offense is a different beast when he's in the backfield.
It may not matter all that much in the end -- Buffalo likely still needs at least four wins in its final five games to reach the playoffs -- but the Bills deserve worlds of credit for how they handled their difficult Week 11 circumstances. The franchise is headed in the right direction, even if the postseason has to wait another year.
Coming off a 2-14 season and the No. 1 overall pick, there is no shame for the Texans in being a year away. And that's where they stand, realistically. Houston is not a fluky 5-6. It's a middle-of-the-road team that could be extremely competitive in the very near future, provided it makes the quarterback position priority No. 1 next offseason.
The finish Sunday sort of exemplified the Rams in a nutshell: entertaining, competitive and -- for the last decade or so -- just unable to get over the hump.
Despite Chicago's back-to-back 21-13 wins, feel free to temper any expectations here. Heck, Josh McCown basically donated a victory to his old team on Sunday. This still could turn really interesting should the Bears steal one on Thanksgiving in Detroit. They play three straight at home after that, followed by a Week 17 trip to Minnesota.
We have reached the point of this week's Power Rankings where teams have moved up purely because the NFC South cannot be rewarded for its awfulness. Minnesota does deserve a little kudos for pushing Green Bay so heartily, in spite of a disappointing showing by Teddy Bridgewater.
What are we doing here, NFC South? You can't all back into the playoffs at the same time. There actually is an (unfortunately too possible) scenario that sends the Falcons into the postseason on a Week 16 win over New Orleans ... and four more losses. Such an outcome would leave the Falcons as the division champions at 5-11.
The Giants were plugged in at No. 25 initially, but Odell Beckham Jr. reached up and grabbed the No. 24 spot for them. Beckham is a great actor in a terrible movie -- a la Forest Whitaker in Battlefield Earth or Bill Murray voicing Garfield. The talent remains undeniable; the overall picture is rather depressing.
Another clunker. The Saints now have lost three straight at home for the first time since 2006-07. You have to go back another decade, to 1997, to find a time that the Saints had an 0-3 Superdome stretch over the span of three weekends.
The day prior to Carolina's last victory, the San Francisco Giants took down the Washington Nationals in an 18-inning NLDS game. So, yeah, it's been a bit since the Panthers were victorious. Fifty-two days, in fact. And yet, the Panthers could be back in first place by Sunday night.
A quick fix? No chance.
Whether it's Josh McCown or Mike Glennon at quarterback, Tampa Bay has been downright awful at taking care of the football. On Sunday, McCown played like he was allergic to pigskin, throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice. All in all, the Buccaneers have committed 24 turnovers this season (second worst in the NFL), including at least one in all 11 games they've played.
Has there been a worse performance across the board this NFL season than the one the Jets turned in Monday night? From Michael Vick's struggles to the secondary's apparent disinterest in any physical activity to Percy Harvin repeatedly running kickoffs out of the end zone and getting blown up at the 15, the Jets were an unstoppable nightmare.
The Jaguars are back in the basement and the explanation why is simple: They stink. Case in point: Jacksonville has scored fewer points but also allowed more points than any team in the league.