NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* The Hall of Fame has announced this year's semifinalists. My preferences to advance: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Don Coryell, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Marshall Faulk, Kevin Greene, Lester Hayes, Curtis Martin, Willie Roaf, Ed Sabol, Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe, Aeneas Williams, George Young.

* Four best teams for turnover differential: Eagles (+14), Falcons (+11), Patriots (+11), Steelers (+11). Combined record of those teams: 33-11.

* CBS ran a very powerful feature Thursday on former Bengals WR Chris Henry and his mother, Carolyn Glaspy. You've probably heard about it by now, but if you haven't seen the video, use the link in the previous sentence, or click here to watch it on YouTube.

* Two teams already have 100 penalties this season, the Lions and Raiders. Two others, the Dolphins and Falcons, have fewer than 50.

* I rag on Jon Gruden a lot. Don't worry, he deserves it. But this week, Gruden called a blocked kick right before it happened. All right, I'm impressed. I even kind of liked his rant on how Commissioner Goodell shouldn't let the NFC West champion into the playoffs. His faith in the Commissioner is certainly misplaced, but I don't have a problem with his premise.

***

A pair of very good players were ejected from the Houston/Tennessee game this weekend. Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan got into a straight fight, ripping off each other's helmets and throwing punches. Johnson connected to Finnegan's face at least three times. Both players were thrown out of the game, but the NFL announced on Monday that neither would be suspended. Instead, they were fined $25,000 each.

I've been a vocal advocate of the league's player protection policies, but they're being handled wrong. In fact, I believe they're counter-productive. An aggressive hit on a receiver, even something that probably wouldn't have drawn a flag 12 months ago, can draw a $50,000 fine, but deliberately throwing punches at someone with his helmet off gets half that? Albert Haynesworth cleats Andre Gurode's face and gets a multi-game suspension, but Andre Johnson rips off Finnegan's helmet, punches him three times, and gets a slap on the wrist? Hell, he can sign and sell his game ball and make back his fine money.

And honestly, what's the point of these fines? If you make $5 million a year, $25k is 0.5% of your salary. Half a percent. That's an inconvenience. If playing recklessly draws a couple fines like that, but earns you an extra $200 grand on your next contract, the aggressive play is worth it. Suspensions are the only way to send these guys a message, and as far as I can tell, everyone agrees on that. I'm sure the commissioner's office knows it. But they don't care.

So if the fines aren't changing player behavior, what are they doing? They're pissing people off. Players are angry, and I don't entirely blame them. The fines are arbitrary, pointless, and plainly unfair. Someone who accidentally injures a player gets the same fine as two guys who deliberately start a fricking fist fight? Come on. These fines are nothing but a PR exercise. It's the worst kind of hypocrisy to make a big show out of doing something to prevent bad behavior, when you know that it doesn't do anything to actually prevent that behavior. If the NFL were serious about player conduct and safety — and I think it's obvious at this point that it is not — the league would be dishing out suspensions. Weak. Dirty play should earn suspensions and ejections; the fines are worse than pointless.

Anyway, below are our Week 12 power rankings. Brackets show last week's rank.

1. Atlanta Falcons [4] — Five straight victories, including three against teams with winning records. Since drafting Matt Ryan in 2008, the Falcons have been a tremendous home team, while struggling on the road. Atlanta's next three games are all away, but they're unlikely to crash and burn, with two of those three against the hapless Panthers and Seahawks. The test is Week 13, against Tampa Bay. Michael Turner is quietly having a very good year: 974 rush yards, fifth-best in the NFL, with a 4.4 average, 7 TDs, and no fumbles.

2. Green Bay Packers [1] — Really, they could still rank at the top. If the game had been in Green Bay, or even on a neutral field, that three-point loss easily could have been a three-point win. In any case, let's hold off on the doom-and-gloom forecasts; the Packers will be fine. Three of the last five games are at home, and the next two are against opponents with a combined record of 6-16. Greg Jennings, after a slow start in the first five games (avg 3 rec, 37 yds, 0.6 TD), has come alive in the six games since (avg 6 rec, 107 yds, 1.0 TD).

3. New England Patriots [3] — Three tough games coming up: Jets and Packers at home, Bears on the road. Rookie CB Devin McCourty continues to have a good season, intercepting two passes against the Lions on Thursday. McCourty leads the Patriots in interceptions (5), INT return yards (110), and passes defended (12). That said, New England ranks dead last in pass defense, allowing 288.5 yards per game. That will happen when opponents are always trying to catch up.

4. Baltimore Ravens [5] — Ray Rice had a 76-yard TD reception called back on a very questionable penalty this weekend, but he still finished with 132 yards from scrimmage. Early in the season, the Ravens seemed a little fascinated by their upgraded receiving corps, with Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Over the past four games, though, Rice has re-emerged as an important weapon in the receiving game, with 23 catches for 253 yards. He's a dynamic player, and Baltimore is a better team when he's getting 20-25 touches a game. There's a nice balance on offense right now, and the defense is playing the best it has all year. At the beginning of the season, I picked the Ravens to go 10-6, but miss the playoffs. If they win next week, though, I think they're the favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLV.

5. Philadelphia Eagles [2] — The offense is very good. The defense is just okay, and on Sunday, it got torn apart by Jay Cutler (247 yards, 4 TDs, 146.2 passer rating) and Matt Forte (117 yards, 8.4 average). Ten of Philadelphia's 11 opponents have scored at least 17 points, with Chicago posting a season-high 31. Two Philadelphia defenders are having good seasons, though: Trent Cole has 9 sacks, and Asante Samuel, who missed the Bears game with a knee injury, leads the NFL in interceptions (7).

6. San Diego Chargers [10] — Heaven help the rest of the league if they can run like that in their remaining games. We've known all year that Philip Rivers would take care of business, but this team has come alive with adequate special teams, a good running game, and exceptional defense. Antonio Garay had a quiet statistical game against Indianapolis — two tackles, that's it — but Cris Collinsworth raved about him, with reason. At age 30, starting for the first time in his career, he's stepped in for Jamal Williams and been the anchor for the top-ranked defense in the league. As if the Chargers need any more help, they're about to begin a three-game homestand.

7. New Orleans Saints [7] — DE Will Smith had a great game on Thursday: sack, forced fumble, interception ... but over the weekend he was arrested for domestic abuse. Jonathan Vilma also played very well against Dallas. Maybe it sounds strange to compliment two defensive players after the Saints allowed 457 yards and 27 points, but they also caused seven fumbles and an interception.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers [8] — Two weeks ago, Shaun Suisham wasn't even on an NFL roster. Sunday, he hit four 40-yard field goals to give Pittsburgh an overtime win in a game that never should have been so close. The Steelers committed 10 penalties for 107 yards, including a "roughing the passer" call against James Harrison, the 107th 15-yard penalty of his career. Next Sunday's matchup in Baltimore may be the most important AFC game of the regular season. I know Jets/Pats is on Monday night, but those teams are already 9-2. The loser of Pittsburgh/Baltimore might actually miss the playoffs.

9. New York Jets [9] — Overcame the poor decision-making of Mark Sanchez for a 16-point victory on Thanksgiving, but as Joe Theismann remarked, "You're gonna play teams that are a whole lot better than the Cincinnati Bengals." He could have added, "And the Texans, and the Browns, and the Lions..." The Jets are 4-0 since getting shut out against Green Bay, but their opponents are a combined 13-31, and all the games have been close. Brad "One Shoe" Smith (h/t Rich Eisen) made two fantastic plays this week, but the other 59:30 of the Bengals game was basically even.

Brad "One Shoe" Smith is one of those nicknames I really hope sticks. Smith's performance on Thursday drew comparisons to Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, who undeniably had one of the coolest nicknames in sports. Smith lost a shoe during his kickoff return TD, and the symmetry of the nicknames is natural. Plus, it's a cool story. Imagine explaining to your son or daughter 15 years from now that Smith got the nickname because he lost one of his shoes on a long return, but just kept running until he got the end zone. Folks starting calling him "One Shoe", and the name stuck...

10. Chicago Bears [15] — This is what I wrote almost two months ago, in Week 5, when I had the Bears ranked 18th: "A forgiving schedule makes it perfectly realistic that the Bears might win 11 or 12 games this season. It probably won't be that many, but don't be surprised if this team is 8-3 or 9-2 going into Thanksgiving. The Bears travel to Green Bay in Week 17, for a game that could decide the NFC North." Keep an eye on that Week 17 matchup. Peanut Tillman is having perhaps his best season: 4 forced fumbles, 3 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries, and 50 solo tackles, third on the team behind Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.

11. Indianapolis Colts [6] — It's easy to fawn over Peyton Manning, but he's all this team has. The offensive line is subpar. The RBs are bad. Reggie Wayne is having his worst season in memory. The defense is a mess of injuries and can't stop the run. The Colts have dropped three of their last four, but the loss to San Diego, ugly as it was, doesn't mean that much. The Chargers have won five of their last six against Indianapolis; they just have this team's number. And Manning's four interceptions — well, it's a misleading statistic. The first two, he was being hit and the throw went awry. The third resulted from uncalled pass interference. The fourth was desperation, utterly predictable. In fact, I called it from my couch. "If Manning goes back in, he's going to throw another pick." So throw this game out. In fact, it's hard to see anyone but Indy winning the AFC South. But the Colts have problems all over the field.

12. New York Giants [11] — As usual, Eli Manning is the most exciting quarterback in the NFL. He leads the NFL in passing touchdowns (23) and he's second in interceptions (16). You don't know what's going to happen when Eli lets go of the ball, but one way or the other, it's gonna be a big play. Last season, when the Giants fell to 30th in points allowed, they ranked 18th in sacks, averaging two per game (32 total). This year, the G-Men already have 31 sacks, almost three per game, though they still can't keep opponents out of the end zone. It would help if the team weren't -6 in turnovers.

13. Miami Dolphins [18] — The offense looks much better with a real QB. The Dolphins also used the Wildcat effectively for the first time all season, with Ricky Williams (95 yards) and Ronnie Brown (85) combining for almost 200 yards on the ground. In the absence of Brandon Marshall, Chad Henne connected with seven different receivers and passed for over 300 yards. 100.3 may be a bad fever, but it's a good passer rating. Sorry, I'll go sit in the corner now.

14. Kansas City Chiefs [16] — Lead the NFL in fewest turnovers (8). NFL's top five in scoring: Patriots, Chargers, Eagles, Chiefs, Colts. Yeah, Kansas City has a top-five offense. Top five in passer rating: Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matt Cassel, Ben Roethlisberger. Yeah, Cassel is playing like a top-tier QB. Over the last three weeks, Cassel is 70-for-109 with 895 yards, 10 TDs, and no interceptions, a 120.4 rating. Some of that came against a soft Denver defense "protecting" a four-touchdown lead, and the other defenses weren't exactly the '85 Bears, either, but I think it's time to regard Cassel as a top-10 QB. My top 10, right now, in alphabetical order: Brady, Drew Brees, Cassel, Peyton Manning, Kyle Orton, Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Vick.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [14] — The self-proclaimed best team in the league still hasn't beaten anyone with a winning record, and has been outscored by its opponents (223-219). But the remaining schedule is not bad, and Tampa is probably even money to sneak into the playoffs. The Bucs have gotten good production out of their young defensive players, but lost rookie safety Cody Grimm, who broke his leg Sunday and has been placed on injured reserve.

16. Oakland Raiders [12] — Lost time of possession by an incredible 23 minutes in Week 12. The Raiders only had the football for 18:22 of a 60-minute game. Jacoby Ford had another big showing (108 rec yds, rec TD, 101-yd KR TD), but the defense couldn't get off the field, and Bruce Gradkowski did not play well. Jason Campbell is a better passer, but he takes way too many sacks, and Gradkowski is better about that. Campbell is a little better as a scrambler, too. There's no right choice, but if it were me, I'd start Campbell.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars [19] — David Garrard rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown, but he had a poor passing game: 162 yards, an INT, and a 57.1 passer rating is bad enough, but add 4 sacks for 41 yards and a fumble, and it's 121 yards on 39 plays (3.1 per play, which is miserable) with two turnovers. The Jags are last in the NFL in turnover differential, -13.

18. Houston Texans [21] — Broke a four-game losing streak with a shutout win over a division rival. Arian Foster is having one of the great seasons by any RB in history, and this weekend was no exception, but the other hero was Glover Quin, who intercepted 3 passes. Foster led Houston in both rushing (143 yards) and receiving (75), his second 200-yard performance of the season. Foster has four of the top 20 single-game performances for yards from scrimmage this season, including two in the top 10. No one else is in the top 10 more than once or the top 20 more than twice.

19. Cleveland Browns [20] — Overcame the return of Jake Delhomme to edge Carolina at home. Delhomme, Colt McCoy, and Seneca Wallace have all thrown about the same number of passes this season, between 95 and 127. Wallace has the best rating, 88.5, followed closely by McCoy (85.3). Delhomme's rating, with the same offensive line and the same receivers, is 54.2. But Peyton Hillis is a beast, and the Panthers are terrible, so Cleveland won anyway. It would be nice to get Wallace or McCoy back for Week 13.

20. San Francisco 49ers [23] — Three wins in the last four, though the loss was an ugly 21-0 shutout. The nationally-televised NFC West matchup on Monday night represented the worst of this division, which, as a whole, is 17-27 and has been outscored by 247 points. Apart from divisional games, the West is 10-20 and gets outscored by 8.2 points per game. Frank Gore reportedly fractured his right hip and is out for the season.

21. Dallas Cowboys [22] — Rookie receiver Dez Bryant looks like an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, but following his three strongest receiving performances, he's been limited to 3 catches for 8 yards in the last two weeks. Bryant was held without a reception against New Orleans, and was visibly petulant on the sidelines. Even at age 22, you expect a man to conduct himself like a professional. Terence Newman has had some great games on Thanksgiving, but at age 32, he seems to be nearing the end of the line, and has really played poorly this season. Maybe he can hang around as a safety; Newman led the Cowboys in tackles on Thursday.

22. St. Louis Rams [24] — Facing a miserable Denver defense — the league-worst scoring defense and 31st in opponents' passer rating (102.1) — they had their best offensive performance of the season. But don't be fooled, this is still a really bad offensive team.

23. Buffalo Bills [27]Last week, I pointed out that they were last in the NFL in field goals. This week, they kicked three. The Bills started 0-5, losing every game by at least 5 points. Since the bye, they're 2-4, with all the losses by just a field goal, three of them in overtime. If not for OT, the Bills would have a winning record since the bye. All four of those losses came against teams with records of at least 7-4.

24. Minnesota Vikings [28] — Three straight weeks under 20 points, and now Adrian Peterson has a sprained ankle. Minnesota's dormant defensive line, dominant in recent years but mostly invisible in 2010, rose up and dominated Washington for the Vikings' first road win of the season.

25. Washington Redskins [17] — It's not Donovan McNabb's fault. The offensive line has got to be one of the two or three worst in the NFL, the top two RBs are out and the backups can't play, the receiving corps is weak, and the defense has allowed the most yards in the NFL. I must have criticized LaRon Landry's coverage skills half a dozen times, but the team sure could have used an aggressive tackler who hits with authority this weekend. Goat of the week: Perry Riley, whose penalty called back a Brandon Banks KR TD that would have put Washington ahead 20-17 in the fourth quarter.

26. Tennessee Titans [13] — They were 5-2 when Kenny Britt got hurt. Since then, they're 0-4. The free-fall isn't about adding Randy Moss, it's about subtracting Britt and playing a quarterback who can't perform at the NFL level. Tennessee probably is not a realistic playoff contender any more, but if Kerry Collins can't come back soon, they appear to be one of the very worst teams in the league. The next three games are all at home, and all against division opponents. Five of Tennessee's last six are against AFC South foes.

27. Detroit Lions [25] — Jason Hanson is one of the greatest kickers in NFL history. He's 7th all-time in scoring, ahead of guys like Nick Lowery, Jan Stenerud, and Adam Vinatieri. He's 5th all-time in field goals, and 1st all-time in 50+ yarders. In Week 9, the Jets' Trevor Pryce dove at Hanson's knees after a kick. Pryce got a 15-yard penalty, and Hanson got a knee injury that has kept him off the field ever since. Hanson may return before the end of the season, but he's 40 years old, so nothing is guaranteed. Pryce may have ended the career of one of the best kickers ever, with a dirty play, but he was neither fined nor suspended by the league. The NFL cares about player safety? B.S.

28. Seattle Seahawks [26] — One of two teams, Oakland being the other, to lose time of possession by more than 20 minutes in Week 12. That means the other team held the ball twice as long as you. The Seahawks rank 29th in offense (299 yds/gm) and 30th in defense (399 yds/gm), a 100-yard deficit per game. In the last month, Seattle is 1-4, losing by a combined score of 89-168, an average of 16 points per game.

29. Denver Broncos [29] — Haven't held anyone under 20 points this season, and they've allowed at least 29 three games running. Last season, Elvis Dumervil led the NFL in sacks. This year, he's on injured reserve. Dumervil's absence isn't the only reason this defense is so horrid, but it's a major factor. In fact, I wonder if I didn't give him enough credit last year.

30. Cincinnati Bengals [30] — In Week 12, Carson Palmer threw multiple interceptions for the fifth time this season, including three games in a row. Only Eli Manning has more (6), and Palmer is now 26th in passer rating.

31. Arizona Cardinals [31] — Why on earth does a team called the Cardinals wear black uniforms? Come on, red. Cardinal red! There's no way Arizona was going to win on Monday night, but the refs sure preferred San Francisco. Every close call went against the Cardinals, including by far the biggest of the night, a mysterious penalty that nullified LaRod Stephens-Howling's huge kickoff return. The game was an embarrassment. Steve Young called it "non-competitive football" and "painful to watch." Matt Millen proclaimed, "There's nothing the Cardinals did today that resembled a drive." Facing a 3-7 team that lost its best player halfway through the first quarter, Arizona still got blown out. Hands-down the worst game I've watched this year.

32. Carolina Panthers [32] — Second five-game losing streak of the season. Don't tell Carolina there's parity this year.

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