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NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Patriots prepare for Tebow week

12.13.11 at 12:42 am ET
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Eight of the top 10 teams in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings were victorious in Week 14. The Cowboys were the only team to drop out of the top ten. They move to No. 12, while the Giants leap to No. 10.

Tim Tebow pulled off another miraculous fourth quarter comeback and has the Broncos (13) sniffing the top 10. In one of the most anticipated games of the year, Tebow will face off against the Patriots (5) in Week 15. Football fans everywhere are fascinated to see if the “Tebow Magic” can carry over for a seventh straight week.

Two coaches lost their jobs on Monday. The Chiefs (25) parted ways with Todd Haley and the Dolphins (22) fired Tony Sparano. Sparano and Haley join Jack Del Rio as coaches to be shown the door this season, and they probably won’t be the only ones. Raheem Morris with the Bucs (23), Andy Reid with the Eagles (21),  Norv Turner with the Chargers (15), and Jim Caldwell with the Colts (32) are just a few other coaches who would appear to be on the “hot seat”.

Green Bay Packers1. (1) Packers (13-0) — The Chiefs, Bears, and Lions stand in the way of the Packers completing a perfect regular season. Unless Aaron Rodgers goes down, Green Bay should become the second team in NFL history to finish a season 16-0. The success can be credited to a dynamic offense and a defense that causes turnovers. Their 32 takeaways leads the league.

2. (2) Ravens (10-3) — Sunday’s upcoming game against the Chargers will be a good test for the Ravens defense. Philip Rivers will be the best quarterback the team will have faced since Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9. If the Ravens win, they’ll clinch a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive year. If they win their remaining three games, they’ll lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the first time in franchise history.

New Orleans Saints3. (3) Saints (10-3) — Very rarely do you see the Saints kick four field goals in a game. Usually we see Drew Brees slinging the football in the endzone. The Saints have looked like a very different team on the road at times this season and inevitably they’ll be forced to leave the comfy confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and play outdoors on the road. Sean Peyton will have to find a way to get his team to play at the same level on the road as they do at home.

Pittsburgh Steelers 4. (5) Steelers (10-3) Ben Roethlisberger‘s health has been a concern all year because he’s constantly taking hits from opposing defenses. He is the second-most sacked quarterback in the league. The Steelers luckily escaped catastrophe when Roethlisberger went down with just a high-ankle sprain. Big Ben is beat up and needs better protection from his offensive line if the Steelers want to make a return to the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots 5. (6) Patriots (10-3) — The Patriots’ five straight wins have come against subpar quarterbacks; their last two losses have come against Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Each week, the Pats’ D looks more and more suspect. They can’t expect to win in the playoffs with Matt Slater and Julian Edelman running around in the secondary. They need Pat Chung healthy and back at safety. Aside from their last game, the run defense has done a solid job. Tebow and the Broncos offer a different type of offense that the Patriots are used to seeing, but it might work to their advantage.

San Francisco 49ers6. (4) 49ers (10-3) — The Niners own a tie-breaker over the Saints and still control the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Alex Smith and the offense must do a better job finding ways to score while in the red zone. The 49ers haven’t had a red zone touchdown in three straight weeks. Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, and Frank Gore must find ways to make big plays in the red zone.

Houston Texans7. (7) Texans (10-3) — The AFC South champs have endured injuries to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and Mario Williams, just to name a few. That makes their seven-game winning streak and 10-3 record even more impressive. The Texans will be in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. With that said, it’s hard to see Houston beating teams like the Ravens, Steelers, and Patriots with rookie T.J. Yates behind center.

8. (8) Falcons (8-5) — After allowing 16 unanswered points to the Panthers in the first half, the Falcons came roaring back with 24 of their own in the second half. Resiliency and composure is what matters this time of the year and Matt Ryan has led the way for his team. The Falcons haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2009.

New York Jets9. (9) Jets (8-5)Jim Leonhard‘s season ending injury is a key loss for the Jets. The starting safety was a major contributor on defense and special teams. The Eagles and Giants are the next two opponents on the Jets’ schedule and both have very talented offenses that might be able to take advantage of a Leonhard-less defense.

10. (11) Giants (7-6) — Unlike their division foe, the Giants know how to win late. Eli Manning has led five fourth-quarter comebacks. The G-Men snapped a four game losing streak and will finally get some relief from their taxing schedule this week against the Redskins. The Giants pass defense is a major concern. It will be difficult to have success in the NFC playoffs against great passing teams like the Saints, Packers, Cowboys, and Falcons.

Detroit Lions11. (12) Lions (8-5) — The Lions barely managed to survive Ndamukong Suh‘s two game suspension. The dominant pass rusher will be back on the defensive line next week against the Raiders. Luck finally seems to be on the Lions side this year. Decimating injuries to the Bears, Tebow pulling off an unthinkable comeback, and a non-call on a clear facemask that could’ve gave the Vikings one more opportunity to win the game, are all examples of “Lady Luck” being in the Lions’ corner.

Dallas Cowboys12. (10) Cowboys (7-6) — The Cowboys have had a fourth quarter lead in five of their six losses. In those six loses, the Cowboys have been outscored 70-31 in the final quarter. Super Bowl caliber teams get better in the fourth quarter — they don’t collapse. Dallas is clearly not a worthy playoff contender.

Denver Broncos13. (13) Broncos (8-5) — The Tebow story continues to amaze every week. His five fourth quarter comebacks this season have propelled the Broncos into first place. One thing we’ve learned from the young QB is that he gets stronger as the game goes along. His performance gets dramatically better. The remarkable streak of victories can also be credited to Denver’s D. It’s very difficult to constantly be playing from behind. The Broncos defense has allowed 13 points or less in five of their last seven games.

14. (15) Titans (7-6) — The Titans are in a dog-fight for the final wild card spot in the AFC. Their remaining schedule looks to be the easiest out of all the other teams vying to get in. The Colts, Jaguars, and Texans are the three remaining teams. The Titans will need a healthy Matt Hasselbeck to make their playoff push. Defensively, the team should feel confident in the way that unit is playing. Drew Brees and the Saints scored an uncharacteristic 22 points and went 0-3 in the red zone. The Titans have allowed the seventh fewest points in the NFL.

15. (19) Chargers (6-7)Rivers and the Chargers are clinging on to their playoff hopes but it may be a little too late. One more loss and the team is officially eliminated with the 9-3 Ravens next on the schedule. The Chargers haven’t beaten a quality team all year.

Oakland Raiders 16. (14) Raiders (7-6) — The Raiders are a frustrating team to watch. They haven’t been able to solve their penalty problem all year. In the last two games, the Raiders have a total of 21 penalties. They’ve also been outscored 80-30 in those two games against the Dolphins and Packers.

Chicago Bears17. (16) Bears (7-6) — Better luck next year Bears fans.  The injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte are too immense to overcome. The two replacements have been responsible. Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber both have made very costly mistakes.  The Bears have lost three straight and they’ve all been against AFC West opponents.

Cincinnati Bengals18. (18) Bengals (7-6) — The Bengals suffered a very demoralizing loss to another playoff team. All six of their losses have come against playoff bound teams. One of their seven wins have come against teams with a record above .500. The loss to the Texans proved the Bengals aren’t in the same class as some of the playoff teams. The Bengals defense allowed third-string Yates to lead an 80 yard game winning touchdown drive with under two minutes to play.

Arizona Cardinals19. (23) Cardinals (6-7) —The Cardinals are 5-1 in their last six games after a six game losing streak put them at 1-6. Their past two wins have been very impressive. The Cards have stepped it up defensively, sacking the quarterback five times in each of their last two games. John Skelton is doing his best to create a very intriguing QB controversy in Arizona. The 23 year-old QB had his best game of his career against one of the best defensive teams in the league as Kevin Kolb was forced to watch from the sidelines with an injury.

Seattle Seahawks20. (24) Seahawks (6-7)Marshawn Lynch has all the traits a coach wants from his running back. He runs hard, blocks well, and can catch the football. Pete Carroll has done a terrific job at getting his young team to improve. The Seahawks can be a solid playoff contender if they can bring in the right quarterback.

21. (25) Eagles (5-8) — The Eagles will attempt to win back-to-back games for the first time since October. This desperate team will square off against the Jets and attempt to stay mathematically alive in the playoff hunt. The Jets, Cowboys, and Redskins are next on their schedule. The Eagles will have to win out and then pray for a lot of help for an opportunity to play in the postseason.

Miami Dolphins22. (17) Dolphins (4-9) — Tony Sparano can leave Miami with his head held high despite the poor record. Before the season started, the Dolphins were pursuing Jim Harbaugh even with Sparano under contract. GM John Ireland also decided to not acquire a quarterback in the offseason. Sparano was able to keep his team fighting hard each week despite starting the season 0-7. If the Dolphins want to take a step in the right direction, they should fire Ireland as well and attempt to hire a seasoned head coach like Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, or John Gruden.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers23. (20) Buccaneers (4-9) — The injuries to their defensive line have been crippling but those injuries can’t cover up on the problems the Bucs have had. No team has turned the ball over more than the Bucs. The 31 turnovers are one of the main reasons they’ve lost seven straight games. Josh Freeman, in particular, has had a difficult time protecting the football. The Bucs looked like a promising young team in 2010 but have taken a major step back in 2011.

Buffalo Bills24. (21) Bills (5-8) — The Bills season has been spiraling downward for quite some time now. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played extremely poorly the second half of the season. Fitzpatrick has thrown 16 picks; only Freeman and Rivers have thrown more. The Bills have been outscored, 194-77, during their current six game losing streak.

Kansas City Chiefs25. (22) Chiefs (5-8)Todd Haley is out in Kansas City but he can’t take all the blame for the disappointing season. The Chiefs have been absolutely decimated with injuries. The team’s overall effort in games has been very inconsistent and that is probably the main reason for Haley’s firing. Still, it’s difficult to compete when Tyler Palko is the starting quarterback. The firing with three games is questionable but it’s possible the Chiefs want to give Romeo Crennel a three game try out to see if he’s the right fit for the open decision.

Carolina Panthers26. (26) Panthers (4-9) — Once again, the Panthers showed glimpses of being able to compete with the best teams in the league. Their losses to the Packers, Saints, and Falcons have all been by 8 points or less. The poor performances Cam Newton has had in the second half this year should be a learning experience for the rookie that he improves on next season.

Washington Redskins27. (27) Redskins (4-9) — The Redskins have been on the losing end of many games this season but they’ve competed well in the last few weeks and can close out their season in a positive way if they continue to fight the last three games. Rex Grossman probably wishes he can face the Patriots defense every week. He had

Cleveland Browns28. (28) Browns (4-9) — The Browns played hard, but ultimately their loss to the Steelers guaranteed Cleveland its eleventh losing season since 1999. A franchise quarterback has been missing during that time. Colt McCoy has made it difficult for fans to believe he can be that type of player. However, the second year QB hasn’t had a lot of weapons around him either. Mike Holmgreen is facing an interesting decision in the offseason on whether to keep McCoy or go in another direction. 

Jacksonville Jaguars29. (29) Jaguars (4-9) — With just a few  more offensive weapons, Maurice Jones-Drew can carry the Jaguars back to the playoffs. The Jags D has done a great job holding opponents to less than 20 points per game.

Minnesota Vikings30. (30) Vikings (2-11)Joe Webb looked great filling in for Christian Ponder but Vikings fans have to take a moment before they crown Webb and dump Ponder. Running quarterbacks have had very limited success in the NFL. It finally looks like Minnesota has a quarterback with tremendous potential to be a franchise player. Christian Ponder was playing with an injury and has had to endure a god-awful offensive line since taking McNabb’s place. Ponder’s seven turnovers in the last two games have to be addressed, but he’s still a rookie and the best man for the job.

St. Louis Rams31. (31) Rams (2-11) — The 2011 season should be a valuable learning experience for second-year QB Sam Bradford. Bradford’s sophomore season has been physically taxing week after week. He has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league and has played injured. This experience of fighting through a physical season, miserable season should make the young QB stronger in the years to come.

32. (32) Colts (0-13) — It actually looked like the Colts were trying to win the game Sunday against the Ravens. Jim Caldwell elected to go for it on fourth down four times in Sunday’s loss. The Colts coach still has a lot to lose. His job and his pride are at the top of the list.

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.

Read More: aaron rodgers, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady
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