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WEEI NFL Power Rankings — Week 12

11.24.09 at 11:14 am ET
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Mike Bell and the Saints continue to rise above the competition and remain in the No. 1 spot. (AP)

Mike Bell and the Saints continue to rise above the competition and remain in the top spot in the power rankings. (AP)

It’s time to start separating the pretenders from the contenders in 2009. After 11 weeks of football, it’s getting easier to tell which teams are for real. The Bears, 49ers and Jets made many believe they had a shot of doing big things early in the season, but now it looks like all three won’t be playing football in January. Others, such as the Ravens, Texans and Falcons, also could find themselves on the outside looking in as early as next week.

The Saints and Colts once again are the top teams in this week’s rankings. With six games to go, both teams continue to find ways to win. The Saints will face off against the best team on their schedule Monday night when the Patriots visit New Orleans. It could be smooth sailing the rest of the way if the Saints walk away with a win Monday.

The Broncos are falling and falling fast. Denver dropped seven spots and sits at No.15. The Super Chargers continue to climb their way toward the top. San Diego enters the top five for the first time this year after winning its fifth straight game. In the last three years, the Chargers are 23-7 in their last 10 games of the season.

The Titans also are rising in the rankings after winning their fourth straight. Tennessee stands tall at No. 14.

New Orleans Saints1. (Last week, 1) 10-0 The Saints have found many different ways to win games this year and will face their toughest test of the season Monday night against the Patriots. The secondary has had trouble covering stud wide receivers and will have to keep Randy Moss in check if they want to stay undefeated.

2. (2) 10-0 The Colts’ bend-but-don’t-break defense stepped up in the red zone and held the Ravens to field goals instead of touchdowns. Indianapolis leads the league allowing an average of 15.7 points per game.

Minnesota Vikings3. (3) 9-1 Who thought Brett Favre was going to be this good? He leads all quarterbacks in the NFL with the best passer rating and has 21 touchdown passes, which puts him in a tie for second.

New England Patriots 4. (5) 7-3 The Patriots lead the AFC in takeaways to giveaways with a plus-12. If they win the turnover battle on Monday night, they will leave the Saints with their first loss of the season. New England’s offense can be just as explosive as the Saints offense. Wes Welker leads all receivers with 79 catches despite missing two games with an injury and Randy Moss is second in the league in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

5. (7) 7-3 The Chargers are known for finishing off the regular season strong and are doing it again in 2009. Just a few weeks ago, it looked like the Broncos had a strangle hold on the AFC West title, but now the Chargers are the ones on top.

Cincinnati Bengals6. (4) 7-3 The Bengals’ loss to the Raiders makes you scratch your head and wonder. Cincy let a great opportunity to gain a two-game lead in the division and improve to 5-0 on the road slip away against one of the worst teams in the league.

Arizona Cardinals7. (9) 7-3 Arizona is now 5-0 on the road. The main concern is the health of Kurt Warner, because Matt Leinart won’t be able to lead the Cardinals back to the Super Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys8. (10) 7-3 The Cowboys need to figure out their offensive problems if they want to go deep into the playoffs. The offensive unit, particularly the passing game, has struggled greatly in the past two games.

9. (12) 6-4 The Eagles will be relying on their young players down the stretch to make a serious playoff run. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are two players that will step up and help Donovan McNabb and the offense make that run.

Pittsburgh Steelers 10. (6) 6-4 Early reports indicate that Ben Roethlisberger will play next week, but if he suffered a concussion Pittsburgh will be in trouble, as backup Charlie Batch may miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury. There are a cluster of teams fighting for playoff spots in the AFC, and there is no guarantee the Super Bowl champs will have a chance to defend their crown.

Green Bay Packers11. (15) 6-4 The Packers suffered two key injuries on Sunday that will seriously hinder their chances of making the playoffs. Aaron Kampman and Al Harris are two Pro Bowl-caliber players that the Packers will surely miss.

Jacksonville Jaguars12. (18) 6-4 If the season ended today the Jaguars would make the playoffs, but the majority of their wins have come against mediocre teams. The Jags beat the Rams, Jets, Bills, Chiefs and a Titans team that was playing awful in the first half of the season. Jacksonville has to prove it can win against playoff-caliber teams to prove it is indeed a contender.

13. (16) 6-4 The Giants need to establish a solid run game to help Eli Manning and balance the offense. The Falcons are at the bottom of the league in defending the run but were able to hold Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to under 40 yards rushing each.

14. (21) 4-6 With Vince Young calling signals, the Titans are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Young looks like a completely different quarterback and has won every game he’s started this year. After starting the season with six straight losses, the Titans now are in the hunt for a playoff spot. Lots of credit has to go to coach Jeff Fisher.

Denver Broncos15. (8) 6-4 The Broncos lost the division lead for the first time this year. Denver has allowed 27 points or more in the four-game losing skid. This was a team that led the league in fewest points allowed through the first six weeks of the season.

Houston Texans16. (11) 5-5 Two weeks in a row the Texans have had a great chance to win but haven’t been able to close games out. The loss to the Titans on Monday night put their playoff hopes on life support.

17. (14) 5-5 The Ravens had plenty of opportunities to beat the Colts but went 0-4 in the red zone. A tough loss for the Ravens, who are now entering must-win territory if they want to make the playoffs.

Miami Dolphins18. (19) 5-5 The Dolphins finally are back to .500 after starting the season 0-3. Miami’s run game is one of the best in the league, but this team lacks great play-making wide receivers and will struggle to win games if they get into a shootout with solid passing teams.

19. (13) 5-5 Atlanta has lost five of its last six games. The Falcons have a great opportunity to get back on track Sunday against Tampa Bay.

San Francisco 49ers20. (17) 4-6 The 49ers need a quarterback that can lead and put them in a position to win week in and week out. Alex Smith and Shaun Hill have proven they cannot get the job done.

Chicago Bears21. (20) 4-6 If Jay Cutler isn’t throwing interceptions he is missing wide-open receivers. The Bears could have easily beat the Eagles on Sunday but made key errors throughout the game that gave Philadelphia the victory. The Bears will miss the playoffs for the third year in a row.

Carolina Panthers22. (22) 4-6 Carolina saw its playoff hopes dwindle after the loss to Miami on Thursday night. The Panthers certainly have improved since the start of the season but aren’t doing enough to win games.

New York Jets23. (23) 4-6 The Jets should focus on developing Mark Sanchez and worry less about this season because they have no chance of making the playoffs. Sanchez continues to make bad decisions on the field, and that is putting the Jets in a tough position to win games.

Washington Redskins24. (24) 3-7 I’m sure the Redskins already have the big-name offensive free agents circled to help solve their offensive woes next season.

Kansas City Chiefs25. (27) 3-7 The win over the Steelers snapped a 10-game home losing streak for the Chiefs. Great job by Matt Cassel and his team coming back and beating the defending Super Bowl champs in overtime.

Oakland Raiders26. (29) 3-7 Impressive win for the silver and black. They probably could have had a couple more wins already this season if Tom Cable had benched JaMarcus Russell in favor of Bruce Gradkowski earlier.

Seattle Seahawks27. (25) 3-7 Matt Hasselbeck can’t be expected to win games when his leading rusher gains just nine yards on nine carries. The Seahawks are in desperate need of a solid run game to help balance a pretty solid passing game.

Buffalo Bills28. (26) 3-7 It took until Mid-November for  Terrell Owens to have a 100-yard game, but he finally got it done on Sunday against the Jaguars. The Bills offensively looked like a completely different team after the departure of Dick Jauron. Buffalo passed the ball 31 times and handed the ball off just 17 times. First time we saw the Bills pass more than run all year.

St. Louis Rams29. (28) 1-9 The Rams have competed in back-to-back weeks against two teams that will make the playoffs. What more can you ask for from the Rams?

Detroit Lions30. (31) 2-8 Who would’ve predicted that the Lions-Browns game was going to be the most exciting game of Week 11? It’s great to watch Matthew Stafford develop.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers31. (30) 1-9 The demotion of defensive coordinator Jim Bates has to mark one of the only times when both coordinators on one team didn’t make it to the end of the season. Jeff Jagodzinski was fired before the season began and now Bates will no longer be calling plays on the defensive side of the ball.

Cleveland Browns32. (32) 1-9 Eric Mangini made the bonehead coaching move of the year in 2009 by calling a timeout and allowing Matthew Stafford to come back into the game for one last play that won the game for the Lions.

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