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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 12

11.22.11 at 9:20 am ET
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No team can overtake the Packers. The undefeated defending champions cruised to 10-0 and once again sit atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Perhaps their biggest test of the season will come on Thanksgiving against the Lions (9) on a short week of rest. The 49ers (2) are not far behind. The only thing preventing the Niners from an undefeated season is a Week 2 overtime loss to the Cowboys (11).

For the second straight week, another playoff contender lost its starting quarterback. Jay Cutler will miss the rest of the regular season, thus putting the Bears’ playoff hopes in jeopardy. Mark Sanchez is putting the Jets’ playoff hopes in jeopardy as well, but for a whole different reason. The lackluster play of Sanchez has resulted in back-to-back losses and drops the Jets three spots to 14.

Week 12 promises to have a major impact on the rankings. Six of the top 10 teams will face each other. The most intriguing matchup will involve the No. 2 and 3 teams, as the 49ers visit the Ravens. The Harbaugh brothers will face off in one of the most anticipated games of the year.

Green Bay Packers1. (1) Packers (10-0) — Defending the Packers seems like an impossible task. The array of weapons on offense is the reason why the defending champs are undefeated. Dating back to last year, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have won 16 straight games. They’ll have to win 22 straight to finish the regular season undefeated and 25 to win the Super Bowl. That would be an amazing feat, and it looks more possible each week.

San Francisco 49ers2. (2) 49ers (9-1) — The turnover-to-takeaway ratio is always a fine statistic to gauge how good a team actually is. The 49ers lead the league with a plus-17. The Packers are in second place with a plus-12. The Niners’ eight straight wins are a result of protecting the football, causing turnovers, great coaching and a physical defense.

3. (3) Ravens (7-3)Ray Rice received 20 carries and helped lead the Ravens to a key divisional win. Baltimore wins more times than not when the play-calling on offense involves a strong mix of run and pass. For some reason, the Ravens at times get away from that philosophy. John Harbaugh‘s team is in first place but is playing the 9-1 Niners Thursday. The run-stifling defense of the Niners vs. Ray Rice promises to be a fun matchup to watch.

Pittsburgh Steelers 4. (4) Steelers (7-3) — The 31 times Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked this season has taken a toll on the 6-foot-5 quarterback. Roethlisberger is nursing a fractured thumb, and the Steelers must find a way to limit the amount of hits he takes if they want to go deep into the playoffs. Four of the Steelers’ six remaining games are against teams with a sub-.500 record.

New Orleans Saints5. (5) Saints (7-3)Drew Brees and the Saints will get back to work in Week 12 against the Giants. Heading into the game, many are wondering if the Saints are capable of beating the Packers. Their defense must make a statement against Eli Manning and the New York passing attack. Defensively, the Saints have failed to generate much pressure on the quarterback.

6. (7) Falcons (6-4) — Finally, Roddy White dominated a game like he did so many times last year. With Julio Jones sidelined with an injury, White stepped up in a big way during Sunday’s win over the Titans. Matt Ryan and the offense will need White to perform each week as they battle for a playoff spot.

New England Patriots 7. (9) Patriots (7-3) — It’s still difficult to determine whether the Patriots are a true Super Bowl-contending team. The next six games will shed little light on that answer. The combined record of the six remaining teams on the schedule is 20-40. Tom Brady and the Pats likely will wrap up the division and secure a high AFC seed. However, the lack of depth in the secondary makes the Pats an extremely beatable team.

Chicago Bears8. (6) Bears (7-3)Jay Cutler‘s injury hurts the Bears in so many ways. This is a team that has lost just one game since October. The Bears have improved dramatically. The offensive line was preventing sacks and opening holes for Matt Forte, while Cutler was finally protecting the football. Now the playoff hopes of Bears fans are in the hands of Caleb Hanie. It’s tough to like their chances of getting one of the two wild card spots in the NFC with the Lions, Falcons, Giants and Cowboys all fighting as well.

Detroit Lions9. (10) Lions (7-3) — The resilient Lions have shown they are a team that can come back from any deficit. Once again, Matthew Stafford rallied his team to a win after trailing by double digits. The Lions’ play has been shaky of late, but they can breathe a little easier now that Bears QB Jay Cutler is out for the regular season. However, Detroit’s remaining schedule includes two games against the Packers and one against the Saints.

10. (8) Giants (6-4) — Sunday night’s monumental loss to the Eagles could really hurt the Giants. The G-Men are tied for first place in the NFC East with games against the Saints and Packers next. The run game has been the Giants’ biggest weakness all year. Ahmad Bradshaw is out with an injury and Brandon Jacobs has been inconsistent. He averaged less than two yards per carry and rushed for just 21 against the Eagles.

Dallas Cowboys11. (12) Cowboys (6-4) — The Cowboys are undefeated in the month of November. Tony Romo and the offense have found a rhythm. The balanced attack of run and pass is making the offense difficult to defend against. Defensively, the Cowboys have shown signs of improvement. The run defense allowed just 2.5 yards per carry to the Redskins after being scorched by Fred Jackson last week for 8.8 yards per carry.

Houston Texans12. (13) Texans (7-3) — The Matt Leinart era will begin in Houston this Sunday when the Texans take on the Jaguars. Leinart will make his first start since 2009. He’ll be hoping Andre Johnson will be alongside. Johnson has been out since Week 4 and is expected to return.

Oakland Raiders 13. (15) Raiders (6-4)Carson Palmer‘s last two games are making doubters think twice before criticizing the team for giving up a first- and second-round draft pick. Palmer is getting into a rhythm with his receivers and has a high completion percentage. One thing that must be mentioned when talking about the Raiders is the amount of penalties they are flagged for. Hue Jackson has failed all season at getting his team to play more disciplined football. The Raiders had 12 penalties called against them against the Vikings. They’ll need to fix that issue if they want to remain in first place and make a run in the playoffs.

New York Jets14. (11) Jets (5-5)Mark Sanchez continues to drag the Jets down week after week. The third-year quarterback has made a habit at making the same mistakes time after time. His poor decisions with the football have resulted in some backbreaking plays over the last few weeks. There are talented players all around him, but Sanchez will prevent Rex Ryan and the Jets from accomplishing their goal if he doesn’t protect the football.

Cincinnati Bengals15. (14) Bengals (6-4) — Four of Andy Dalton‘s five interceptions over the last two games have come in the second half. The rookie has exceeded expectations this year, but at the same time he has been responsible for some untimely turnovers. The Bengals certainly are a team that has improved dramatically, but they don’t seem to be talented enough to beat the Ravens and Steelers this year.

16. (19) Eagles (4-6) — The overhyped Eagles finally won a big game. However, it might be a little too late. They’ll have to win their remaining six games against the Patriots, Seahawks, Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Redskins to avoid becoming the most disappointing sports team since the 2011 Red Sox.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers17. (20) Buccaneers (4-6) — The Bucs proved they can compete with the best in the league when LaGarrette Blount is healthy and leading a strong run game. Blount provides balance to the offense, and that is exactly what the Bucs need to be successful. The carelessness Josh Freeman has shown with the football this year has to be a major concern for coach Raheem Morris. Following his three-interception performance last week, the third-year QB threw two more against the Packers, giving him a total of 15 for the season. Last year he threw just six.

18. (16) Titans (5-5) — Since the Titans’ shocking Week 2 win over the Ravens, they’ve yet to beat a team over .500. Chris Johnson has made Titans owner Bud Adams second-guess his decision to give him a six-year, $56 million deal all year. Johnson averaged just 1.1 yards per carry in Sunday’s loss.

19. (18) Chargers (4-6) — Five straight losses have sent the Chargers spiraling down to last place in one of the worst divisions in football. Philip Rivers and the Chargers haven’t won a game since Oct. 9. Norv Turner‘s days in San Diego are numbered if his underachieving team fails to make the playoffs again.

Buffalo Bills20. (17) Bills (5-5) — The Bills got off to a fast start because they won the turnover battle. That hasn’t been the case lately. Since Week 6, the Bills are a minus-9 in the takeaway/giveaway category. Defenses are starting to figure out the Bills offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown nine interceptions in the last three games.

Denver Broncos21. (21) Broncos (5-5) — With Tim Tebow as the starter, the Broncos have a 4-1 record and are just one game out of first place in the AFC West. Tebow’s fourth-quarter performances have been amazing to watch. It’s clear he gives his team the best chance to win. However, John Elway has also made it clear that he doesn’t believe Tebow is the quarterback of the future in Denver. In a passing league, Tebow’s inability to complete passes eventually will hurt him. It will be interesting to see what role Tebow plays in the offense down the road.

Miami Dolphins22. (26) Dolphins (3-7) — The Dolphins are just the third team in league history to win three straight games after losing seven straight. Matt Moore has been one of the biggest difference-makers. He’s thrown just one interception over the last three games.

Seattle Seahawks23. (25) Seahawks (4-6) Ray Rice and Steven Jackson have been the feature backs against the Seahawks the last two weeks and have a combined 69 rushing yards. They’ve stopped the run well all year and now rank eighth in the league in rush defense. Pete Carroll needs a quarterback far better than Tarvaris Jackson to get Seattle back to the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs24. (23) Chiefs (4-6) — It’s been a nightmare season for the Chiefs. The injury to Matt Cassel was the final straw. Tyler Palko didn’t make a strong case that he should be the starter going forward. It wouldn’t be surprising if we saw fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi get some action behind center. With six games remaining, no team has a more difficult schedule ahead than the Chiefs. All six opponents have a winning percentage of .500 or better.

Arizona Cardinals25. (24) Cardinals (3-7) — It’s time to put an end to the Beanie Wells experiment in Arizona. Dating back to college, durability has always been an issue for Wells. The Cardinals need a strong running game to be successful, and it’s obvious Wells isn’t the answer.

Cleveland Browns26. (30) Browns (4-6) — The Browns’ 14 points against the Jaguars was their highest total in five weeks. The multiple-touchdown performance from the offense was a rare but welcomed occurrence. Finding more offensive firepower is a must for the Browns when the season concludes.

Jacksonville Jaguars27. (22) Jaguars (3-7) — It’s clear Blaine Gabbert needs more talent around him for the Jaguars offense to be successful. Gabbert led a solid final drive but his receivers let him down with dropped passes. With Maurice Jones-Drew at running back, it seems like the Jaguars just need an upgrade at the receiver position to get the offense out of the gutter. The Jags are averaging just 12.5 points a game.

Minnesota Vikings28. (27) Vikings (2-8) — Offensive line help should be a major area the Vikings address in the offseason. They know they have a young quarterback with the potential of being one of the best in the league. Now they have to find the protection for him. Christian Ponder was sacked five times during Sunday’s loss to the Raiders. He was constantly chased out of the pocket but proved he can do some damage with his feet, racking up 71 yards on the ground.

Washington Redskins29. (28) Redskins (3-7) — It’s been a difficult but promising year for the Redskins. Injuries have beleaguered Mike Shanahan‘s team, but before that rash of injuries the Redskins were playing quality football. The one missing ingredient is a quarterback. If the Redskins can get a top-caliber QB in the offseason, they’ll be in a great position to make the playoffs in 2012.

St. Louis Rams30. (29) Rams (2-8)Sam Bradford, last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, has been sacked 31 times in just eight games this season. There aren’t many more damaging ways to stunt your franchise quarterback’s growth. Improving the offensive line will be No. 1 on the priorities list for the Rams.

Carolina Panthers31. (31) Panthers (2-8)Cam Newton put it best: “We put on a clinic on how to lose a game.” The young Panthers have done that all year, losing six close games. Newton has proven he could be the best quarterback in the league someday, but he still has a lot to work on. Ball security hasn’t been his strong point. He’s thrown 14 interceptions this year; four of them came against the Lions during Sunday’s loss.

32. (32) Colts (0-10) — The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft is just a couple of weeks away from being wrapped up by the Colts. Indy’s remaining schedule includes games against the Patriots, Ravens and Texans.

Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to powerrankings@weei.com. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

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