NFL Week 13 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* The Hall of Fame has announced this year's semifinalists, and it's a pretty good list. My favorites: Cris Carter, Terrell Davis, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene, Russ Grimm, Lester Hayes, Bob Kuechenberg, Randall McDaniel, John Randle, Shannon Sharpe, Bruce Smith, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Tasker, and Rod Woodson.

* Why does ESPN put a microphone and a national TV audience in front of scum like Drew Rosenhaus?

* The Buccaneers and Patriots have been assigned next year's London game. The Bucs "host," which is the NFL's way of saying Tampa will lose a home game.

* Dear TV people at all stations: please don't miss the beginnings of plays.

* My best wishes to Dr. Z. Have a speedy, full recovery, doc.

***

For the first month of the 2008 season, there was near-unanimous agreement that the NFC East was the strongest division in pro football. But if the season ended today, only one team from the East — the New York Giants — would make the playoffs. Dallas went through a midseason slump, punctuated by Tony Romo's month-long absence. Philadelphia has been up-and-down all season, repeatedly on the wrong side of close games. But perhaps most dramatic has been the stunning decline in Washington. After opening the season 4-1 and sitting at 6-2 midway, Washington has fallen to 7-5 and looks worse every week.

The defense — sixth in both yards and points allowed — is not the problem here. Washington is 28th in the league in scoring. Cincinnati (1-10-1), Detroit (0-12), and Washington share the distinctions of being the only teams not to score 30 points in a game this season, and the only teams not to win by double-digits this season. More on this later. For now, let's get to the power rankings. Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New York Giants [1] — If Plaxico Burress is convicted of illegal possession of a firearm, he faces a minimum of 3½ years in prison. I don't know if he'll do the time, but SI's Peter King has already said that "it's highly unlikely he'll ever play for the Giants again." You know what to do with guys who stop bringing it after they get the contract? Trade them to the Raiders. If Burress doesn't land behind bars, I hope he lands in Oakland, where careers go to die.

2. Tennessee Titans [2] — I like Jeff Fisher, but what was he doing, throwing the challenge flag when his team was up 47-10? It wasn't even a scoring play or an obvious bad call. There's a certain point — and that point comes before 47-10 — when you just say to yourself, "Okay, we'll let this one go."

3. Pittsburgh Steelers [4] — Committed 8 penalties for 88 yards and 5 first downs. No problem, with this defense. They forced 4 turnovers by Matt Cassel, all in the second half, powering Pittsburgh to an easy 33-10 victory in New England. Troy Polamalu has been playing at a very high level the past few weeks, but the star of the show is OLB James Harrison. On Sunday, Harrison led the team in tackles, got 2 sacks, and forced 2 fumbles. He's the best player on the best defense, and he deserves serious consideration as Defensive Player of the Year.

4. New York Jets [3] — The fumble return for a touchdown looked like the wrong call to me. But when a team loses by 17, it can't complain too much about one bad call. I think the Jets were due for a letdown, and they had one. It would be wise to rely more on Thomas Jones (16 carries for 138 yards, 8.6 average) and less on Brett Favre (43 passes for 247 yards, 5.7 average).

5. Indianapolis Colts [5] — Injuries are an issue, but they have five straight wins, and the remaining schedule is forgiving. It would be a surprise at this point if the Colts do not qualify for the playoffs. If they do, Tony Dungy will pass Tom Landry, the legendary Cowboys coach, for the most consecutive playoff appearances by a head coach (10).

6. Baltimore Ravens [8] — Won six of the last seven, losing only to the Giants. Opponents should be concerned that Baltimore's offense seems to be coming around. The Ravens have scored more than 30 points in four of their last five games. Mark Clayton had the game of a lifetime this weekend, making two sick catches and throwing a pretty TD pass. He finished with a career-best 164 receiving yards.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [6] — Sources report that longtime defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will join his son Lane at the University of Tennessee next season. I don't know about the dynamic of a son being the boss of his more accomplished father, but whatever. If the rumors are true, current Lions head coach Rod Marinelli would be an interesting possibility as Kiffin's replacement. Marinelli was an assistant with Tampa prior to his hiring in Detroit.

8. Atlanta Falcons [9] — Michael Turner leads the NFL in rushing attempts (282). Whether you prefer Increased Risk Games or The Curse of 370, it's pretty clear that heavy workload can ruin the career of a running back. Turner has had five straight weeks with at least 24 carries. The Falcons can't ask him to keep that up.

9. Dallas Cowboys [11] — They walked all over the Seahawks, and the injuries to Marion Barber and DeMarcus Ware don't seem serious, so maybe I'll just write about the Jonas Brothers instead of their game. If Joe Buck can spend more time talking about the Jonas Brothers than football — during a Thanksgiving football game he's supposed to be announcing — then maybe I should write about Miley Cyrus instead of the Browns.

10. Carolina Panthers [10] — Can you win a game with only four players? DeAngelo Williams (4 TDs), Steve Smith (105 yards), Julius Peppers (2 sacks), and Jon Beason (11 tackles, game-clinching INT) made pretty much all the plays in Sunday's win over the Packers. Williams had an especially notable performance, because red zone offense (5 TDs in 5 trips) was the difference in the game.

11. Arizona Cardinals [7] — I'm starting to think Ken Whisenhunt is a Tony Dungy type of coach, in the sense that he's a pretty good coach who sometimes looks like a very bad coach. Dungy has always been a winner, and I think he brings what we sometimes call a "culture of winning" to his teams. Whisenhunt seems to have done that in Arizona. But both sometimes make mystifying mistakes with regard to in-game strategy and playcalling.

12. New England Patriots [12] — Cassel leads the NFL in sacks (39) by a pretty wide margin. Turnovers killed them against Pittsburgh, and pressure on Cassel directly contributed to four of those (two picks and two sack-fumbles). One of the things that made Tom Brady special was his ability to deal with pressure, and Cassel doesn't have that right now.

13. Philadelphia Eagles [15] — From 2000-04, the Philadelphia Eagles had a collective record of 59-21 and played in four consecutive NFC Championship Games. Over that span, Donovan McNabb made the Pro Bowl every year. During those years, McNabb averaged 429 rushing yards per season, about 30 per game. Since then, McNabb has an average of 14 rushing yards per game and the Eagles have a record of 30-29-1. Good things happen when he runs with the ball.

14. Minnesota Vikings [18] — Four wins in their last five games. Adrian Peterson had another great game, and Gus Frerotte had that long pass completion to Bernard Berrian, but Minnesota's defensive line absolutely owned this contest. Jared Allen had three sacks, Pat Williams seemed to disrupt everything up the middle, and Kevin Williams ate double-teams on almost every play. I'm sure Ray Edwards and the guys who rotate in played well, too, but those three were huge on Sunday night. Actually, Pat (317 lbs) and Kevin Williams (311) are always pretty huge.

15. Miami Dolphins [13] — Next game is against the Bills in Toronto. The Dolphins, who traditionally struggle in cold weather, catch a break: Toronto's Rogers Centre is a dome. Bills fans are petitioning to have the retractable roof opened for the game, but I wouldn't count on it. Little things like this could affect whether Miami makes the playoffs.

16. New Orleans Saints [17] — In home games and London, Drew Brees has 17 passing TDs and 4 interceptions, with a passer rating of 119.9. In road games, Brees has 7 TDs and 10 interceptions, with a rating of 76.7. I'll do the math for you. Home: +13 TD/INT, Away: -3 TD/INT. Differences of -16 in TD/INT and -43.2 in passer rating are enormous. The Saints can be officially eliminated from playoff contention if they lose to the Falcons in Week 14.

17. Denver Broncos [20] — In the last three games, they have beaten the 8-4 Falcons and Jets, but lost to the 3-9 Raiders. I don't know what to expect when they play the Chiefs next week. I guess they'll either lose, or win by 40.

18. Green Bay Packers [14] — Fourth loss by four points or less. In comparison, Green Bay hasn't won a game by four or less all year. Their losses have been by an average of 7.6; the wins by an average of 18.4. Even at 5-7, the Packers aren't dead yet. If they win out (which is a real possibility, looking at the schedule), they would probably still get in.

19. Chicago Bears [16] — Congratulations, Bears, you just put Gus Frerotte in the record books. Frerotte completed a 99-yard TD pass against Chicago's defense, tying a record that can never be broken. That means Frerotte will always have a place in history. The last 99-yard pass came in 2004, from Jeff Garcia (then with Cleveland) to Andre Davis. I thought punter Brad Maynard had a pretty good game on Sunday night.

20. Washington Redskins [19] — With the defense playing well and Clinton Portis having another fine season, it is as clear as ever that Jason Campbell is the biggest problem. John Madden said on Sunday night, speaking about Tarvaris Jackson, that he was trying too hard to be perfect. Campbell has the same problem. I remember reading in 2002 that Mike Holmgren had told Matt Hasselbeck to throw some interceptions. Campbell could benefit from the same advice. Obviously you don't really want to throw picks, but a quarterback does need to take chances. That means he'll throw some interceptions, but he'll probably throw some touchdown passes, too. Right now Campbell isn't doing either one. "First, do no harm" is a doctor's job, not a quarterback's.

21. San Diego Chargers [22] — They're finished. I wrote differently last week, but San Diego needed to win on Sunday, and Denver's upset of the Jets really changes things. I've developed this unfortunate habit of quoting Deion Sanders, and here's his take on the Chargers winning the AFC West: "Anything can happen ... but not this."

22. Houston Texans [24] — A team that may be better than its record. Their losses have come against opponents with a combined record of 55-29 (counting the Colts twice). Rookie RB Steve Slaton and former number one draft choice Mario Williams both had big games on MNF, and both will probably make the Pro Bowl.

23. Cleveland Browns [23] — Finished with six points for the second game in a row. The top two QBs are both out for the season, so Ken Dorsey is the new starter. He's off to sort of a poor start: 0-for-3 with an interception. Rumors say Romeo Crennel is out as head coach, just one year after getting a contract extension. I don't like it. Give him another season.

24. Buffalo Bills [21] — A nation of teenage girls mourned the groin injury to Trent Edwards. The Bills have lost five of their last six games, and with a moderately tough remaining schedule, it wouldn't be shocking if they don't win again all season.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars [25] — After the game, a sad-sounding Emmitt Smith opined that the Jags have lost the desire to compete this season. A slightly more feisty Steve Young concurred, "I've never seen a more disinterested team." Maybe when you're a preseason favorite, it's hard to get fired up to try for 8-8 instead of limping home at 4-12. That's something coaches need to address.

26. San Francisco 49ers [27] — Four wins this season. They've beaten Detroit (0-12), St. Louis (2-10), Seattle (2-10), and most recently, Buffalo (6-6). This could mean that the Niners are getting better, or it could mean that Buffalo has gotten really, really bad. San Francisco has a realistic chance to finish 6-10.

27. Kansas City Chiefs [30] — How about Tony Gonzalez? On Sunday, he went over 750 receiving yards for the 10th season in a row. Gonzalez got off to a slow start this season, averaging 4 catches for 39 yards, but since the bye, he's averaged 7 catches for 88 yards. He leads all tight ends in receptions (73), yards (806), and TDs (tied with Antonio Gates, 6). This guy is a really special player, and he's one of the five best TEs of all-time.

28. Oakland Raiders [28] — JaMarcus Russell completed 10 of his 28 pass attempts on Sunday. Sadly, that grisly 35.7% completion percentage is not his worst, or even second-worst of the season. In fact, it's the fourth time that Russell has been below 40%. The league average is about 61%.

29. Seattle Seahawks [26] — The head coach in waiting is Jim Mora, Jr., the secondary coach. Seattle is 31st in the NFL in pass defense. Is the guy in charge of the pass defense really the guy you want taking over this team next season?

30. Cincinnati Bengals [29] — Possibly the most pathetic offensive performance of the season. The Bengals had 155 total yards and just 6 first downs. They only had one turnover, so I guess there must have been another game more pathetic, but this team is really bad. Since tying the Eagles, they've lost by a combined score of 61-13.

31. St. Louis Rams [31] — They've scored 20 points in a game just once all season, against Dallas in Week 7. You know who I feel bad for? Torry Holt. He's having a decent season, considering he plays for the Rams. Holt leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, and he's tied for the team lead in receiving TDs. Holt can still play, but this will be his first season with under 1,000 yards since his rookie year in 1999.

32. Detroit Lions [32] — I'm starting to think they've mailed it in, and they're just waiting for 2009. The Lions went 0-for-11 on third downs this Thanksgiving. Believe it or not, they have two very serious Pro Bowl contenders, WR Calvin Johnson and K Jason Hanson.

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