NFL Week 13 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Everyone knows that LaDainian Tomlinson is chasing the single-season TD record, but he's also likely to break Paul Hornung's single-season scoring record, which has stood since 1960.

* Let's give a hand to Rod Bironas and Josh Brown, both of whom made very long kicks at the end of the game to help their teams win this weekend.

* When B.J. Sams got hurt on Thursday, Cris Collinsworth called him a "really, really, really good football player". Sams is a pretty good returner, but three "reallys?"

* What would you have said if someone told you, at the beginning of the season, that the NFL's top four in passer rating right now would be Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer, plus Tony Romo and Damon Huard?

* Including Huard, three of the league's top 15 in passer rating have been benched. The others are Mark Brunell and Byron Leftwich.


This was quite a week for the Brad O. curse. Everyone has some version of it. You say something, or make a prediction, and immediately something to the contrary occurs. Last week was a banner week for me. I used this space, at the beginning of my column, to remark on the slim — but hardly impossible — playoff hopes of Miami and Washington. Both teams promptly lost. Washington's defeat was especially painful, because I thought the team had a real shot at going 4-1 down the stretch, to finish 8-8 and snag the NFC's last wildcard with tiebreakers over Carolina and Atlanta. Now I think they'll go 5-11.

I mentioned that the Patriots were holding opponents under 20 points. They allowed 21 against Detroit, of all teams. I called a game against the Cardinals reason to celebrate, and St. Louis promptly went out and lost to them, at home. I wrote that the Raiders had a good opportunity to win against Houston, and they got killed.

If I jinxed your team, you have my apologies. For now, let's get on to the power rankings. Brackets indicate previous rank.

1. San Diego Chargers [3] — Three-quarters of the way through the season, there's really not a dominant team, for the first time since 2002. In '03, we had the Patriots and Eagles. In '04, those two and the Steelers. Last season, the Colts. The Chargers have all the weapons to be that team, but they're not really putting teams away, with no double-digit wins since October. I'd love to believe this is their year — I like Marty Schottenheimer and I hope he wins a Super Bowl — but they can't just ride Tomlinson the whole way. There needs to be more production from the passing game.

2. Baltimore Ravens [2] — Did anyone else notice that Bryant Gumbel kept misidentifying tacklers on Thursday night? He credited Ray Lewis on a play when Lewis didn't even touch the guy. Not even jumping on the pile afterwards, just came over and slapped his teammate — the guy who did make the tackle — on the butt. Two plays later, Gumbel did the same thing for Ed Reed. He didn't touch the guy.

3. Dallas Cowboys [5] — Their four-game winning streak is second only to the Chargers, and while Tony Romo had his first really rocky outing since taking over as starter, this team has the balance that champions need. The offense can move the ball on the ground — especially with a larger role for Marion Barber, who's averaging over five yards per carry — and through the air. The defense is terrific. And not to get too excited about Martin Gramatica after one game, but it finally looks like the special teams are okay. I don't think anyone believes Mike Vanderjagt would have made three of those four kicks.

4. Indianapolis Colts [1] — The loss to Tennessee was a surprise, but I don't think anyone who's been paying attention was shocked by it. The Colts are beatable, and the Titans have been playing well recently. Plus, Tennessee nearly beat the Colts when they played earlier this year, and the well-coached Titans do a good job of exploiting opponents' weaknesses, especially run defense. Witness 219 yards on the ground, including 12 first downs and a 6.3 average. Indianapolis has now lost two out of three after starting 9-0.

5. New England Patriots [4] — Committed an uncharacteristic 10 penalties against Detroit, and if the Lions hadn't turned the ball over five times, New England probably would have lost. Laurence Maroney and Mike Vrabel both left Sunday's game with injuries, and if either is serious, that will show on the field.

6. Cincinnati Bengals [9] — After losing three games in a row, and five out of six, they've strung together a hugely impressive three-game win streak. First they go into New Orleans and beat the Saints by two touchdowns. Then they shut out the Browns 30-0 in Cleveland. Now they've beaten the Ravens. Cincinnati needs to be careful about looking ahead to Indianapolis in Week 15, though, or the Raider defense could give them trouble.

7. Chicago Bears [6] — Won despite an offense that probably did more harm than good. The Bears had 107 yards of total offense, just six first downs, and a 19-minute deficit in time of possession. I always pound the drum for balance, but lately, Chicago has been winning on defense and special teams, only. Those units are special, but in the postseason, the Bears will need to score some points. Chicago has fallen to 20th in total offense, and Rex Grossman has been terrible. Lovie Smith is sticking with Grossman for now, but he has a very good backup on the bench, and if this keeps up, Smith has to play Brian Griese.

8. New Orleans Saints [8] — Scored over 30 points in four of the last five games, and they just dominated San Francisco, on offense and defense. Reggie Bush had his best game as a pro, with 168 yards from scrimmage and four TDs. With Vince Young and Bush both playing well, you have to wonder how Houston fans are feeling right now. I feel bad for Mario Williams, because he's going to be compared to these guys throughout his career.

9. Kansas City Chiefs [7] — After four consecutive games holding the opponent below 20 points, the defense reverted to its 2005 form against Cleveland, allowing 31. I didn't see the game, but what happened to Dante Hall? He averaged 13.8 yards on kickoff returns against the Browns. A few years ago, his average was nearly twice that. In 2003, he averaged more on punt returns. I know it's just one game, and short kickoffs played a role, but it seems like Hall's mojo has been stolen by Devin Hester.

10. Seattle Seahawks [12] — Most people will rank them higher than this, but the Seahawks didn't play like a top-10 team on Sunday night. They had almost as many penalties (10) as first downs (12). What the 'Hawks have done well this year is win close games. Their losses have come by an average of 15.5, while Seattle is 4-0 in games decided by a field goal or less.

11. New York Jets [14] — Don't be surprised if the Jets get a big jump in the rankings next week. I toyed with putting them as high as eighth. Since about mid-October, everyone's been worrying that a mediocre Jet squad would make the playoffs because of a weak schedule. Right now, though, the Jets are not mediocre. They're 3-1 since the bye, including a win at New England and blowouts the last two weeks. The loss was to Chicago.

12. Miami Dolphins [10] — Assuming he stays with Miami, Nick Saban will have a tough decision at quarterback this offseason. Daunte Culpepper should be healthy, but the team has been winning with Joey Harrington, and he seems to have the support of his teammates. Neither is an attractive option right now, but it's hard to justify picking up another QB. On the other hand, that could be the one position holding this team back.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars [15] — There's an unwritten rule in power rankings that if two teams are about equal, and one has a recent head-to-head win over another, you rank that team higher. But the inconsistent Jaguars seem like a middle-of-the-pack team to me, and I can't put them in the top 12, though I will if they beat Indy next week. I criticize announcers frequently, so it's only fair to praise them sometimes, too, and I thought Kevin Harlan did a really nice job on the play-by-play for CBS' coverage of this game.

14. Tennessee Titans [19] — Three wins in a row, and five of their last seven. Barring something truly strange, Tennessee can't make the playoffs this season, but it could affect the postseason picture with home games against Jacksonville and New England. Vince Young has improved noticeably from the beginning of the season, and if the Titans can get him some more weapons this offseason, Young in 2007 might look like Donovan McNabb in 2000.

15. Buffalo Bills [17] — Some people won't like seeing them ahead of Carolina, but who would you bet on, the team that kept it close against the Chargers, or the punchless, inconsistent team that lost to the Eagles on Monday night? Since the bye, Buffalo is 3-2, which is pretty middle of the pack anyway, but the losses are to Indy and San Diego. That's pretty good.

16. Carolina Panthers [13] — Jake Delhomme was called for intentional grounding twice before halftime, and he had two costly interceptions late in Monday's game. It just doesn't seem like Delhomme's decision-making has improved since he took over as Carolina's starter almost four years ago. In Week 2, I questioned whether Delhomme's success might have been due to the great players around him, and that continues to seem likely. I'm not saying he's awful, but you certainly wouldn't put him in the top half of the league's starting QBs.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers [20] — It's too late to salvage their season, but the Steelers have won three out of the last four games. Pittsburgh didn't have a great game on offense, but committed only one turnover — that's serious progress for a team that had been averaging three a game — and got an exceptional performance from the defense.

18. New York Giants [16] — Drop two spots, but not because of their tight loss to Dallas, which is nothing to be ashamed of. The problem here is the pattern of losing, four games in a row now. That four-game losing streak coincides exactly with the games in which Michael Strahan has not played. Against the Cowboys, New York had nine penalties for 94 yards, bringing their season total over 700 penalty yards. On Sunday, that included three false starts (at home, no less) and three personal fouls.

19. Philadelphia Eagles [22] — I seldom agree with Tony Kornheiser, but he's right about Jeff Garcia. Eagles fans: you don't want A.J. Feeley. You want Garcia. The Dolphins didn't want Feeley. The Chargers cut him. Garcia is a three-time Pro Bowler, effective as a runner and a passer, with some serious toughness and heart — and he's played well in relief of Donovan McNabb. I don't know what more you want out of him.

20. Denver Broncos [11] — Three losses in a row at this point, and while they've lost to good teams, they've looked ugly doing it, with two of the losses at home. The Broncos are also without middle linebacker Al Wilson, who suffered a scary neck injury, and they're starting a rookie quarterback. Jay Cutler did not look good on Sunday night, and Mike Shanahan didn't seem comfortable with him. Watching the game, I wondered if Shanahan started Cutler because he thought the rookie gave them the best chance to win, or because of pressure from fans and players. It would be surprising if Denver makes the playoffs at this point, and that's a huge disappointment after their great start.

21. Cleveland Browns [28] — This team has gone 3-4 since the bye, against a tough schedule, including wins against the Jets, Falcons, and Chiefs. Cleveland's defense isn't an elite unit, but there are some playmakers here, especially in the linebacking corps. Willie McGinest has played just as well as he did in New England, and rookie first-round draft pick Kamerion Wimbley has a sack in four of the last five games.

22. Atlanta Falcons [25] — The embodiment of a .500 team. They're 3-3 at home and 3-3 on the road. They're 4-4 against NFC opponents and 2-2 against AFC opponents. They're 2-2 in their division. So why are they ranked in the 20s? Because they've lost four out of the last five, and the only one of those that was close was at home against Cleveland, the team ranked directly above them.

23. Washington Redskins [18] — Ladell Betts has looked terrific filling in for Clinton Portis, but the team can't just hand off on every play. When the Falcons adjusted their defense to make Jason Campbell throw, Washington's 14-0 first quarter lead disappeared. Washington fans knew this was coming — inexperienced QBs have games like this — but it stung after a win that sparked talk of a playoff run. Injuries in the defensive backfield have really hurt this team.

24. San Francisco 49ers [23] — One of three teams that's been outscored by over 100 points this season (Tampa and Green Bay are the others). The Niners are actually 4-2 at home, but they're 1-5 on the road. Alex Smith has looked pretty good this season, but he's struggled the last two weeks, with five interceptions.

25. Minnesota Vikings [27] — In their first six games, the Vikings didn't allow an opponent to score 20 points. Then they played New England and had their pass defense exposed on national television. From that point, Minnesota is 1-5 and hasn't held anyone but San Francisco under 20 points. Of course, this isn't just about the defense. I'm not sure what has happened to Brad Johnson, but it's not good.

26. Green Bay Packers [21] — Ahman Green had a nice game, but the defense got rocked and Brett Favre had three turnovers. You've got to feel sorry for Favre, even though everyone knew he was making a mistake — or at least putting himself in this situation — by coming back for 2006. It kills him, and presumably the rest of the Packers, to be 1-5 at home. The Lambeau mystique, so powerful in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is gone.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [24] — For most of the season, I've kept them out of the very bottom of the rankings, but the Bucs have lost five of their last six games, all by at least 14 points. I mean, they're not even keeping the games respectable any more. Bruce Gradkowski looks like exactly what he is: a rookie sixth-round draft choice forced into the starting lineup because of an injury.

28. St. Louis Rams [26] — Blown out by the Cardinals, which is pretty much the ultimate embarrassment in the NFL, but Steven Jackson had another strong game. Jackson has over 1,000 rushing yards, but he also has 72 catches for 622 yards, which is reminiscent of his predecessor, Marshall Faulk. Jackson trails only Tomlinson and Larry Johnson in yards from scrimmage.

29. Houston Texans [30] — Miserable offensive performance against Oakland. Including five sacks for 37 yards, Houston finished the game with negative net passing yardage, and the Texans had fewer than half as many first downs as the Raiders. How the team wins games like this is entirely beyond me. I suppose +3 in turnovers and a defensive TD help, but still.

30. Oakland Raiders [29] — The good news is: who do you want in the 2007 draft? It's you and the Lions at the top of the board.

31. Arizona Cardinals [31] — When two bad teams meet, no one should be surprised at a mistake-filled game, but it's not often that both teams have double-digit penalties, as the Cardinals and Rams did on Sunday. Arizona finally had a good day rushing the ball, with three TDs by Marcel Shipp and a 100-yard game from Edgerrin James.

32. Detroit Lions [32] — After they scared New England, some people may want them out of the basement. But the Lions are 2-10 and have lost four straight. They could beat Minnesota next week, but after that there's not much hope on the schedule. The last two are against the Bears and Cowboys — no discussion necessary there — and the other is at Green Bay. The Packers are very beatable, but Detroit is 0-6 is on the road. In fact, during the Matt Millen Era, the Lions are an incredible 5-41 on the road.

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