NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* You probably heard plenty about him on Thanksgiving, but my thoughts are with Lamar Hunt. If the NFL had a Mt. Rushmore, Hunt would probably be on it.

* Junior Seau broke his arm on Sunday, ending his season and probably his career. It's been a great one.

* Maybe I'm missing something here, but setting off fireworks in domes seems like a bad idea to me.

* The Cowboys cut Mike Vanderjagt. Don't listen to that "most accurate kicker" crap he spews. Kicking stats are much different than they used to be, Vandy spent most of his career in a dome, and he can't kick under pressure. I wouldn't want him, either.

* Cris Collinsworth wondered Thursday if Jay Cutler could be "the next Tony Romo." Step aside, Kurt Warner. Teams are now hoping they have the next Tony Romo.


This has been called the year of the backup quarterback, and it's true that a lot of teams have switched starters, often with considerable success. Vince Young, Joey Harrington, and Tony Romo are the most notable success stories, but Damon Huard performed admirably for Kansas City, and Jason Campbell has given new hope to fans in Washington. Most recently, the Broncos handed the keys to rookie Jay Cutler, meaning San Diego — the team so worried about its QB that it traded for Billy Volek — is the only team in the AFC West not to use two starting quarterbacks this season.

Miami and Washington are especially interesting because, after terrible starts, both teams have an outside shot at playoff contention. The Dolphins are 5-6 and have a tough remaining schedule, but if they somehow run the table, and get a little help from the Broncos and Bengals, Miami might still be able to sneak in. In the tough AFC, that's not likely, but the weak NFC leaves more possibilities open.

Right now the last wildcard spots belong to the Panthers and Giants, followed by a group of really terrible 5-6 teams. Washington (4-7) owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Carolina, and with a remaining home game against the Giants can effectively pick up two games in one week. The only really tough game remaining on the schedule is at New Orleans, and Washington probably can't win that one, but this team made a surprise run at the end of last season, too, winning its last five games to clinch the NFC's last playoff spot.

Don't bet on either club to make the postseason, but hope springs eternal, and strange things happen in the NFL. On to the power rankings, brackets show previous rank.

1. Indianapolis Colts [2] — Scored a season-high 45 points against Philadelphia, and the passing game was clicking, but what really dominated was the Indianapolis rushing game. The Eagles have an undersized defensive front, and rank 28th in rush defense, which is almost as bad as the Colts. Indy made 15 first downs on the ground, with 237 rushing yards, including 171 (and four touchdowns) by rookie Joseph Addai.

2. Baltimore Ravens [3] — You won't see many teams lose when they're +3 in turnovers and sack the opposing quarterback nine times. No team makes more big plays on defense than the Ravens. Their combined total of 68 sacks and takeaways leads the NFL. If they keep this up, the Ravens are going to lose defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to a head coaching position in the next year or two.

3. San Diego Chargers [4] — Philip Rivers had his worst game of the season, with a 44.2 passer rating more than 30 points below his previous season-low. The most interesting statistic from Sunday's game, though, was that kicker Nate Kaeding had two tackles. Shawne Merriman returns from suspension this week, which could make San Diego's defense as scary as its offense.

4. New England Patriots [5] — Combined with Chicago for five interceptions and four lost fumbles. Defensive back Asante Samuel was the hero for New England, with a team-leading nine tackles and three interceptions. The Patriots have a terrifying defense, and haven't allowed anyone but the Colts to score 20 points against them this season.

5. Dallas Cowboys [7] — There's really nothing to say about Tony Romo that hasn't been said already, but the Dallas defense has been incredible, too, holding its last five opponents to an average of 14 points. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is another possible head coaching prospect, and Bill Parcells assistants have been a hot commodity recently.

6. Chicago Bears [1] — Rex Grossman is all-or-nothing, and the Bears are seeing more and more of the nothing recently. Grossman's passer rating for November was a miserable 57.1, capped by his four-turnover performance against New England. That fumbled exchange with the center might not have been entirely Grossman's fault, but it was probably the difference in the game. Grossman is tied with Eli Manning in the usually-dubious QB excitement stat: combined TD passes and interceptions (32).

7. Kansas City Chiefs [8] — No game this season has been hyped harder than the NFL's Network's Thursday night debut between KC and Denver, but it was kind of a dull game. It may not be totally fair to evaluate Trent Green based on his first two games back from a long absence, and both played against good defenses, but he doesn't look very good right now.

8. New Orleans Saints [11] — When you factor in sacks, they held the Falcons to 1.9 yards per pass attempt. That stat is a little misleading, since some of Michael Vick's 166 rushing yards came on scrambles from aborted pass plays, but it's still a phenomenal number. Speaking of phenomenal numbers, though, Vick is on pace for 1,265 rushing yards this season. No quarterback has ever reached 1,000 before.

9. Cincinnati Bengals [14] — We all know about Cincinnati's offense, but how about the defense, which engineered one of two AFC North shutouts this week? Kevin Kaesviharn had another big game, with a sack and two of the Bengals' four interceptions. On the downside, the team continues to struggle in pass protection. Carson Palmer has been sacked in every game this season, and more than once in all but two. Barely two-thirds of the way through this season, Palmer already has a career high in sacks.

10. Miami Dolphins [16] — We saw a glimpse of the old Joey Harrington at the end of the first half, but this team has really rallied around him, and Miami's four-game winning streak is the third-longest in the NFL, behind only the Ravens and Chargers. The Dolphins are top-five in total defense, third down defense, and yards per play allowed.

11. Denver Broncos [6] — They were 5-1, then 7-2, but after dropping two in a row — against division opponents — they're 7-4 and fighting to stay in the AFC playoff picture. Cris Collinsworth nailed it on Thursday night when he said, "The Broncos right now are playing like they're scared to death." This was in the first quarter. Jake Plummer has played a little better recently, but I think fans and coaches feel that the offense couldn't possibly be much worse with Jay Cutler at the controls.

12. Seattle Seahawks [13] — What a terrible coaching job by Mike Holmgren on Monday night. I'm all for running the football, but there is no way Shaun Alexander should have had 40 carries against Green Bay. That's how running backs get hurt, and Alexander is only two games removed from a foot injury that kept him out for six weeks. Holmgren overworked Alexander last season to put the reigning league MVP in this situation, and now he's going to do it all over again. Alexander looked great, but he needs to split the load a little.

13. Carolina Panthers [10] — Don't read too much into their loss at Washington, a team against whom the Panthers have traditionally struggled (1-7). Washington's defense stepped up, holding Steve Smith to 34 yards, and this team loses when Smith isn't productive. Carolina's defense played well for the most part, but couldn't put pressure on Jason Campbell and couldn't stop Ladell Betts.

14. New York Jets [17] — Got no production out of the rushing or return games, but limited mistakes (only one penalty) and had a good day throwing the ball. The defense took advantage of Houston's subpar offensive line, netting four sacks, including two by Bryan Johnson. It seems more and more, though, like this team wins or loses according to how well Chad Pennington plays.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars [12] — There's no one magic stat that determines wins and losses in the NFL. But when you go 1-for-11 on third down and commit 10 penalties, you're going to have a hard time scoring points. The Jaguars are supposed to be a defense-first team, but didn't have a great game against Buffalo. The hardest part of Jacksonville's schedule is coming up, and I wouldn't bet on this team to qualify for the postseason.

16. New York Giants [9] — The first time I saw Mathias Kiwanuka let go of Vince Young, I thought it was one of the worst — and most startling — plays I had ever seen in professional football. The more I see it, though, I begin to think Kiwanuka was smart to release him (though not to look away afterwards). If he'd drawn a personal foul on that play, he'd be in almost as much trouble as he is now. If you're looking for the goat, it's Eli Manning. As usual. Someone needs to find out if this kid has a bookie.

17. Buffalo Bills [24] — Since the bye, they've won three of their four games, with the loss by one point at Indianapolis. J.P. Losman is playing much better, with a 95.0 passer rating and twice as many TDs and interceptions for the month of November. The Bills do need to improve their rush defense, which got mauled by the Jaguars.

18. Washington Redskins [23] — Much better at home than on the road. At home, Washington has beaten Jacksonville, Dallas, and Carolina. On the road, the team is 1-5. Great scheme by the offensive coaching staff, keeping extra blockers in to protect Campbell. If Washington plays that well the rest of the season, it's going to finish second in the NFC East.

19. Tennessee Titans [25]Last week, I wrote that Vince Young needed to improve his play, and this week, he had his best game as a pro, with 318 yards and three TDs in combined rushing and passing statistics. Young is still working on his accuracy and consistency, but those are things all rookies struggle with, and it looks like Young can be a special player in this league.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers [15] — On a good day, the Steelers probably beat all but the top half-dozen or so teams in the league. However, good days have been few and far between for Pittsburgh this year, and Sunday's beatdown at the hands of a bitter rival was a low point for the Steelers this season. With injuries slowing them down even more for the next few weeks, fans have probably started looking ahead to next season.

21. Green Bay Packers [21] — In their wins, Brett Favre's passer rating is 105.1. In their losses, it's 64.0. It's normal for a QB's rating to be higher in wins than losses, but a 40-point disparity is crazy. Favre's decision-making goes down the toilet when his team is behind.

22. Philadelphia Eagles [19] — The Colts are a very good team, and Jeff Garcia played pretty well, but I think it's obvious that the Eagles have taken Donovan McNabb's season-ending injury as an excuse to give up on the season. The Eagles got out-muscled by Indianapolis on Sunday night, a week after Travis Henry gained 143 yards against them, and teams are going to run at Philadelphia's defense until it starts stopping people.

23. San Francisco 49ers [20] — Shut down Marc Bulger and got another huge game from Frank Gore, but lost anyway because they couldn't stop the run. Steven Jackson ran for 121 yards with a 5.3 average, and the Rams even got 25 yards and a 5.0 average from Stephen Davis, who I thought was retired. The Niners need to find some more weapons for Alex Smith this offseason, but they also need to get some players for that defense.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [22] — Bruce Gradkowski had the worst game of his young pro career, throwing for 120 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. The defense didn't play any better, making Romo look like Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman as he tied the Cowboys' team record for touchdown passes in a game. Romo's record-tying pass was deposited by Terrell Owens in the Salvation Army donation bucket, a nice gesture on the Thanksgiving holiday.

25. Atlanta Falcons [18] — Haven't scored more than 14 points in a game during their 0-for-November, four-game losing streak. After Vick showed both middle fingers to his own fans after Sunday's game, I'd like to reiterate that the team needs to look for a new head coach. Jim Mora, Jr., may have great defensive schemes, but coaching involves interpersonal skills, too, and Mora is too immature to be a head coach at this level. That's trickled down to his players, and Vick in particular. Not only has the Falcons QB failed to develop during Mora's tenure, he's gotten combative with fans and media. If Vick doesn't get some better direction soon, his amazing potential could be wasted. Vick should be John Elway or Randall Cunningham, not Bobby Douglass.

26. St. Louis Rams [29] — Broke their five-game losing skid with a home win against the 49ers. That's not really reason to celebrate. St. Louis gets to play the Cardinals next week, though, and that might be reason to celebrate.

27. Minnesota Vikings [28] — Both teams had 412 yards of offense, but the Vikings were better on third down (7-of-15), better in the red zone (80%), and better in turnover margin (+4). That they still won by less than a touchdown is a real discredit to their pass defense.

28. Cleveland Browns [26] — Coming off an energizing upset over the Falcons, they've lost to their biggest rival and in-state division opponent in consecutive weeks, getting blown out and embarrassed against Cincinnati. Pass protection was a big part of the problem, but Charlie Frye has got to do a better job of protecting the football. If Ben Roethlisberger weren't such a turnover machine, Frye would lead the NFL in interceptions this season.

29. Oakland Raiders [30] — They've been losing by respectable scores to good opponents, and should probably be ranked higher than this, but until they start actually winning games — and home against Houston this week is a good opportunity — it's hard to move them up much.

30. Houston Texans [27] — Excluding its inexplicable season sweep of the Jaguars, Houston is 1-8 this season, with a -103 point differential and no wins since Week 4. Every year, the story is the same. The Texans need to improve their offensive line. To succeed in this league, you must be able to run effectively, and you must protect your quarterback. Houston can't do either.

31. Arizona Cardinals [31] — Capitalized on the Vikings' poor pass defense by running only five times (for 17 yards). Matt Leinart threw 51 times for 405 yards, with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin combining for over 300. Arizona's defense wasn't up to the task, however. The Cardinals rank 30th in total defense.

32. Detroit Lions [32] — If anything could be more painful than watching Joey Harrington beat them at Ford Field, it was a glimpse of what the team looks like without Kevin Jones. The Lions had just 21 yards on the ground, and no rushing first downs. With Miami keying on pass defense, Jon Kitna was sacked eight times. And to cap everything off, the Lions had three false start penalties in their own stadium.

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