NFL Power Rankings – Week 12

(Philadelphia, Pa) – The wacky world of the NFL continues each week as upsets, last second finishes, and coaches on the hot seat continue to pile up.  There is a shimmer that separation will soon be coming to the parity-laden league. However even with the Tennessee Titans (10-0) and New York Giants (9-1) looking like the odds on favorites to go far in the NFL playoffs, there is a pack of teams in their rearview mirror lining up for the sprint from the third quarter pole to a climatic finish.  Entering this week, there are 21 teams that are .500 or better in search of one of the 12 coveted playoff spots.  This is the time in the season where dreams can come true or end, so buckle up as the 2008 NFL Season comes in for a high-speed landing.

With everyone having played 10 games, the standings show the undefeated Titans (10-0), who have another “character” testing game this week as the red-hot New York Jets come to town; the (9-1) New York Giants – I still believe they are the most complete team in the NFL (Great running game, efficient passing, attacking defense, and upper echelon special teams); the (8-2) Panthers – we know they can run the ball and play defense with the best of them, but the recent passing struggles of quarterback Jake Delhomme have to make you wonder if John Fox’s team is a bit of a pretender; four (7-3) teams still searching for their “legit” title — Buccaneers, Cardinals, Jets, and Steelers; a massive group of eight (6-4) teams that are right in the middle of  the playoff hunt – Redskins, Patriots, Dolphins, Falcons, Ravens Cowboys, Colts, and Broncos; the (5-4-1) Eagles who after stumbling against the lowly Bengals have everyone talking about ties; another jumble of five (5-5) teams who better decide real fast if they are joining the race or putting off their playoff aspirations until next year —  Bills, Vikings, Packers, Bears, and Saints; three (4-6) teams who all look like underachievers given early season expectations —  Jaguars, Browns, and Chargers; the (3-7) Texans and Niners who both look like they could be spoilers down the stretch; three (2-8) teams that all seem to be headed for fresh starts in ’09 with probably new head coaches – Raiders, Seahawks, and Rams; the (1-8-1)  Bengals who even as dysfunctional as they are, probably ended the Eagles season with an awful tie last week; the (1-9) Chiefs, who continue to fight, but seem destined to have to wait and see if their great 2008 Draft Class can improve this team next year and the hapless (0-10) Lions, who still have some fight with Daunte Culpepper at the helm but their tough upcoming schedule could cause them to replace the (0-14) 1976 Buccaneers in the NFL record book as the worst team ever.

The division standings also show a trend, where every game counts especially division battles as most divisional titles look like they will have to come down to week 17.  Here is the AFC picture: AFC South (Looks wrapped up as the Titans lead the Colts by 4 games), AFC North (Steelers lead the Ravens by 1 game), AFC East (Jets leading the Patriots and the surprising Dolphins by 1 game- all the teams in this division are .500 or better), and in the AFC West (Broncos lead the Chargers by 2 games).  In the NFC the races are also tight, except for the Cardinals looking like they will win their first division title since 1975: NFC East (The Giants may have wrapped this one up as they have a 3 game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys – all teams in this division have winning records), NFC North (The NFL’s wildest division is all knotted up with the Packers, Vikings, and Bears all tied at 5-5), NFC South (Panthers lead the Bucs by 1 game), and in the NFC West (Cardinals have the near insurmountable lead of 4 games over the Niners).

Now on to the rankings for this week

1. Giants (9-1) – The G-Men showed why they are the NFL’s most complete team by rolling over the Ravens while piling up over 200 yards rushing.  This week the G-Men will serve as the Cardinals barometer as they travel to the desert to face a looking for respect Cardinals squad.

2.  Titans (10-0) – The NFL’s last undefeated team continues to pile up the wins, but you have to wonder when they will not be able to summon the strength to fight off another interloper.  This past week the Titans and QB Kerry Collins had to comeback from a 14-3 deficit to beat the reeling Jaguars.  In the NFL’s marquee game, the Titans host Brett Favre and the Jets in the “Battle of the Graybeards”.

3. Steelers (7-3) – The Steelers seemed to be battling the officials and the Chargers in a muddy, sloppy, and snowy game where P-burgh showed their toughness in pulling out a win.  In next’s early game, the Steelers will need to guard against a letdown as they host the Bengals on NFL Network Thursday Night Football.

4.  Panthers (7-3) – John Fox’s team played some outstanding defense in a win over the hapless Lion, but the passing of  struggling quarterback Jake Delhomme has to scare Panthers’ fans.  The Panthers need a quality start this week from Delhomme as the Panthers descend on Hotlanta for a key NFC South match-up with the Falcons.

5.  Buccaneers (7-3) – The Bucs and no respect quarterback Jeff Garcia just got about their business and get wins. This past week the Bucs “D” stepped it up as they shutdown all-world running back Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.  In wanting to erase their 1976 brethren’s name from the record book, the Bucs travel to Detroit trying to send the Lions closer to (0-16) history.

6.  Cardinals (7-3) – The Cards always seem to let their opponent hang around, but it was graybeard MVP candidate Kurt Warner, who led the way in a big win over the former NFC West kings the Seahawks.  It is put up or shut up time for the Cardinals as they host the physical #1 ranked New York Giants in potential playoff match-up.

7.  Jets (7-3) –  In a huge overtime road win over the Patriots, Brett Favre and the J-E-T-S showed their mettle and they may have found a new weapon in emerging rookie tight end Dustin Keller.  The rode to AFC respect continue for Brett and Jets this week as they travel to Nashville to face the undefeated Titans.

8.  Colts (6-4) – Every time you want bury the Colts, Tony Dungy’s team continues to show their championship pedigree.  This past week it was the Texans turn to remember the team that won all those games over the last five years.  In a Sunday Night Football Marquee game, the Colts will be looking for revenge (San Diego beat Indy in last year’s divisional playoffs) as they travel to face the desperate for a win Chargers.

9. Cowboys (6-4) – Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo was back in the saddle, but it was workhorse Marion Barber who carried the Cowboys over the finish line against the Redskins on Sunday Night Football.   Wade Wilson and the Cowboys will need to be mindful of a letdown as Iron Mike Singletary brings his team in for the “T.O Bowl”.

10.  Patriots (6-4) – In an NFL Network Instant Classic, the Pats lost in overtime to the new AFC East kings the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football.  The Patriots continue along their AFC East must-win trek with revenge on their mind as they travel to Miami to face an improving Dolphins team.

11.  Broncos (6-4) – You have to hand it to head coach Mike Shanahan as he used former fullback Peyton Hillis as a running back and made rookie Spencer Larsen (FB/LB) into “Concrete Charlie” in a huge road win over Matty “Ice” Ryan and the Falcons.  Shanahan gets another sweet shot at his former boss and nemesis Al Davis as the Broncos host the woeful Raiders.

12.  Redskins (6-4) – The ‘Skins playing with several banged up players had no answer for the hungry Cowboys, who rode running back Marion Barber to a hard fought win.  In a game where a letdown is out of the question, the Redskins travel to Seattle to face a spoiler ready Seahawks team.

13.  Falcons (6-4) – Mike Smith’s young squad suffered their first home defeat to the tough Broncos, but all is not lost.  The Falcons get another chance to move back into the NFC South race as they host the division leading Panthers in a “respect” game.

14.  Ravens (6-4) – After talking a good game, the Ravens got bulldozed by  the Super Bowl Champion G-Men.  The Ravens host the hard to figure out Eagles in basically a “Loser leaves the playoff  picture” match.

15.  Dolphins (6-4) – The ‘Phins ran wild in and out of the Wildcat formation over the struggling Raiders team.  We will know if the Dolphins are for real or not after they host the revenge minded Patriots in a crucial AFC East battle.

16. Packers (5-5) – The Packers made a big statement and moved into the lead in the NFC North with a huge blowout win over the Bears.  After their big divisional win, there is no rest for the Packers and new middle linebacker AJ Hawk as the Pack travels to New Orleans to face the explosive Saints on Monday Night Football. 

17.  Saints (5-5) – The NFL’s most see-saw team is on an upswing after Drew Brees passed the Saints by the better than their record Kansas City Chiefs.  In a game that will have ever reaching playoff implications, the Saints and hopefuly running back Reggie Bush (knee) host the hard-charging Packers on ESPN Monday Night Football.

18.  Bills (5-5) – The Bills may have been the darlings of the NFL after four games, but after a crucial Monday Night Football loss to the Bowns, head coach Dick Jauron is on a very hot seat.  In a game where losing is not an option, the Bills must stop Larry Johnson and the host Kansas City Chiefs.

19.  Vikings (5-5) – With little to no passing game, the Vikings couldn’t muster up enough of an attack against the efficient Bucs.  In a “statement” game, the Vikings travel to Jacksonville to face a dissapointing Jaguars team.

20.  Eagles (5-4-1) – In one of the worst scenarios ever, the Eagles came up very short in an “upset” tie to the pathetic Bengals. In a game that will either signal the end or a new beginning of the McNabb-Reid 10-year era, the Eagles travel to Baltimore to face a very angry Ravens team.

21.  Bears (5-5) –  The Packers dismantled the Bears in a game that may have signaled who the kings of the topsy-turvy NFC North.  In a game where they cannot afford a letdown, the Bears travel to St. Louis to face a reeling Rams squad.

22.  Browns (4-6) – It was the Brady Quinn show as the former Notre Dame star put on a show in a win over the Bills on ESPN Monday Night Football.  Quinn will attempt to continue the monumental task of getting saving Romeo Crennel’s job as the Brown host the Texans.

23.  Chargers (4-6) – The Bolts wilted in chilly Pittsburgh as the improving Steelers put on their snow tires and rolled over the Chargers.  The Chargers host the galloping Colts in a huge NBC Sunday Night Football match-up that is a “must-win” If they want to attempt to catch the Broncos.

24.  Jaguars (4-6) – Probably the NFL’s biggest 2008 disappointment continued as the Jags lost their personal “Mini-Super Bowl” to the undefeated Titans after holding a solid halftime lead.  With the playoffs only a “shimmer”, the Jags must now fight for head coach Jack Del Rio’s job as they host a Vikings squad looking to take over the wacky NFC North division.

25.  49ers (3-7) – Iron Mike II must be getting through to his guys as the Niners shoved the Rams into the NFC West basement.  In the “T.O Bowl” , the Niners will attempt to corral their former receiving threat as the improving Cowboys host Singletary’s squad.

26.  Texans (3-7) –  Peyton Manning showed once again that he loves playing against the Texans as the Colts rolled passed Gary Kubiak’s squad.  Next up is a very interesting AFC battle with the Browns as both teams want to finish strong to save their coaches’ jobs.

27.  Seahawks (2-8) –  NFC West’s new bully, the Cardinals showed the Seahawks how much times have changed in a big win.  In a homecoming type game, former Seahawks MVP running back Shaun Alexander leads his new team (Washington Redskins) versus the Hawks in Seattle.

28.  Rams (2-8) – The Rams couldn’t even win the  “Toilet Bowl” as the Niners pounded them on the way to Mike Singletary’s first NFL win.  With the players trying to save Jim Haslett’s job, the Rams will host a desperate and angry Bears team.

29.  Chiefs (1-9) – Even with getting Larry Johnson back, the Chiefs couldn’t play spoiler as the Saints won a track meet type game.  In what should be a solid match-up the falling back to the pack Buffalo Bills come to Kansas City.

30.  Raiders (2-8) – The Dolphins took apart the struggling Raiders as former Giants head coach Jim Haslett called the team looking for a job.  In a potential massacre, Tom Cable leads his team into Denver to face Raiders nemisis Mike Shanahan and his improving Broncos squad.

31.  Bengals (1-8-1) –  Well the Bungles didn’t lose last week, but they did manage to embarrass the Eagles with an overtime tie.  Next up for the Bengals is an NFL Network Thursday Night special against the hated Steelers.

32.  Lions (0-10) – You have the feeling with former Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper at the helm that the Lions are going to win one game before the season is over.  The Panthers almost had to eat some crow as the Lions fought till the end in a tough loss.  In another possibly close game the efficient, but not overpowering Bucs come to Motown.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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