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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 14: Patriots continue to climb

12.04.12 at 11:30 am ET
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Divisions are beginning to be won and playoff berths are beginning to be clinched as we approach Week 14 and the final stretch of the 2012 NFL regular season. The Texans (1), Falcons (2), Patriots (3) and Broncos (5) have guaranteed themselves a shot at the Vince Lombardi trophy, while others still have something to play for down the stretch.

Ten teams in last week’s top 15 played each other in Week 13, causing a shakeup in this week’s rankings. The Ravens were bounced out of the top five after losing to the Steelers, and the Saints drop to No. 16 after losing their second straight game. New Orleans most likely will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Many teams with high expectations before the season have sunk to the gutter of the Power Rankings. The Chargers (25), Panthers (28) and Eagles (29) haven’t lived up to the talent and potential they have on their rosters.

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss this edition of the Power Rankings.

1. (1) Texans (11-1) ‘€” The balance on both sides of the ball is the main reason the Texans have been so successful. No defense is better on third down, while the offensive rushing attack is one of the most lethal in the game. That combination has put the Texans at the very top of league in average time of possession.

2. (2) Falcons (11-1) ‘€” The victory over the Saints not only gave the Falcons their 11th win, but it also gave Matt Ryan and company tremendous confidence going forward. The quarterback went into Thursday night’s game with a career 2-6 record against New Orleans. The victory all but knocked the Saints out of playoff contention while bolstering belief that this is Atlanta’s year.

3. (4) Patriots (9-3) ‘€” The next two weeks will tell us a lot about how good this Patriots team really is. The Pats have rattled off wins against inferior opponents, now Tom Brady and the high-octane offense will face two of the best teams in the NFL. The defense has shown improvement while continuing to force turnovers. That’s a great sign for New England fans.

4. (3) 49ers (8-3-1) ‘€” By relegating Alex Smith to holding a clipboard, Jim Harbaugh opened himself up to criticism. Much of the blame for Sunday’s loss to the Rams has to go to Harbaugh. Quarterback controversy of any kind is harmful to a team, and Harbaugh is solely responsible. Deciding to go with Colin Kaepernick is one thing, but failing to clearly name a starter is a whole different problem. Announcing that the team is going with the “hot hand” only creates instability and insecurity in the locker room. The coach needs to pick Kaepernick or Smith and stick with his decision the rest of the way. December is not the time to start messing around.

5. (6) Broncos (9-3) ‘€” The Broncos haven’t loss since October and mostly likely will extend their winning streak to eight games Thursday after playing the Raiders. Denver leads the league in second-half scoring with an average of 19.3 points per game.

6. (5) Ravens (9-3) ‘€” On the rare occasion when the Ravens lose or play poorly, it seems Ray Rice‘s workload is fervently discussed. That remains to be true after Baltimore’s latest loss to the Steelers. The elite running back had just 12 carries in Sunday’s game, leaving fans scratching their heads because he was averaging 6.8 yards.

7. (8) Packers (8-4) ‘€” The Packers can’t seem to catch a break injury wise. T.J. Lang was the latest to join the long list of injured offensive linemen on Green Bay. Jordy Nelson also went down with an injury. Still, the Packers are in first place in the NFC North and are winning without their starters. Despite an injured Jennings and Nelson, Green Bay has the second-most receiving touchdowns in the league with 30.

8. (7) Giants (7-5) ‘€” The NFC East was theirs for the taking, but the Giants have let the Redskins and Cowboys back in the race. The offense has been inconsistent and out of rhythm at times. The Giants are far too talented offensively to score just one touchdown against the Redskins defense.

9. (9) Bears (8-4) ‘€” Surprisingly, it was Chicago’s defense that let the team down on Sunday. Now the Bears are looking up at the Packers in the NFC North for the first time since the beginning of Week 3.

10. (10) Steelers (7-5) ‘€” The loss of Ike Taylor will be difficult to overcome, but the Steelers defense is more than capable. Pittsburgh was able to be the best pass defense in the league without Troy Polamalu for most of the season,

11. (11) Seahawks (7-5) ‘€” Give credit to Pete Carroll for going with Russel Wilson after the team paid big bucks for former Packers backup Matt Flynn, as that has to go down as the coaching decision of the year. The rookie has now gone four straight games without throwing an interception while tossing nine touchdowns in the process.

12. (14) Colts (8-4) ‘€” Unless they’re playing your team, it’s tough not to root for the Colts. The ups and downs this franchise has experienced over the past two seasons have been extraordinary. The Colts have gone from a two win season to what looks like will be a playoff appearance.

13. (15) Redskins (6-6) ‘€” The Redskins have a solid young nucleus that makes for a bright future in the years to come. Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon have all paid dividends in a dynamic offense. This was a team that was proclaimed out of the playoff race by its own head coach. A month later the Redskins aren’t only competing not only for a playoff spot, but for the division.
14. (16) Bengals (7-5) ‘€” Four straight wins have propelled the Bengals right back into the playoff race but they have a rocky road ahead. Their final four games are against the Cowboys, Eagles, Steelers, and Ravens.

15. (13) Buccaneers (6-6) ‘€” It’s hard to argue against the fact that this young team is headed in the right direction. They’ve lost two straight against two of the best teams in the league (Falcons, Broncos). However, it’s tough not to appreciate this team’s “no quit” attitude. They still have a good shot at making the playoffs. Bucs fans can be certain their team won’t go down quietly.

16. (12) Saints (5-7) ‘€” It’s not that Joe Vitt is a bad coach, it’s that Sean Payton is as good as advertised. It’s clear this team is missing Payton’s offensive expertise and leadership qualities.

17. (17) Cowboys (6-6) ‘€”The return of DeMarco Murray helped the Dallas offense tremendously. The Cowboys now have their run game back to provide balance to the offense and that allows Tony Romo to be a more efficient quarterback.

18. (18) Dolphins (5-7) ‘€” Joe Philbin has to be encouraged with the way his team played defensively. The Dolphins did a great job getting to Tom Brady, stopping the run, and keeping the game close. If it wasn’t for a mishandled punt and a stupid special teams penalty, the Dolphins might have been able to pull off an upset.

19. (19) Vikings (6-6) ‘€” The lack of improvement from Christian Ponder has to be of concern to Leslie Frazer. The second year quarterback has gotten worse as the season has progressed. Ponder now has 22 career starts but had one of his worst performances this past Sunday.

20. (22) Rams (5-6-1) ‘€” Jeff Fisher is another example of a first year head coach that has dramatically improved his team. The Rams are 4-0-1 in the NFC West. Last year they were 0-6.

21. (20) Lions (4-8) ‘€” When talking about some of the best team’s in the league, one characteristic that is mentioned is the ability for that team to just find a way to win. It seems like the Lions do just the opposite. They continually find a way to lose. There last three losses have been by a combined nine points.

22. (25) Jets (5-7) ‘€” It’s time to start thinking about the future and Rex Ryan knows Mark Sanchez is not the man that will bring him a Super Bowl. Now is the time for the Jets to see what they have with Greg McElroy and Tim Tebow. It’s clear Sanchez’ time as a starting quarterback in New York is running out.

23. (26) Bills (5-7) ‘€” The Bills will have to change many things in the off season but one thing that doesn’t need any improvement is their run game. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have made the Bills one of the most dangerous rushing teams in the league. Improving the run defense and pass offense should be a priority.

24. (23) Titans (4-8) ‘€” The Titans were pathetic offensively Sunday. Five three and outs and six turnovers  were the main contributors to Tennessee dropping their fourth game in the last five.

25. (21) Chargers (4-8) ‘€” This team collapses in the fourth quarter and that is a reflection on the coaching staff and mental toughness of the players. The Chargers are averaging just 8.2 points in the second half; that’s the second lowest in the NFL. In six of their games, they’ve scored as little as three or less points in the second half.

26. (29) Browns (4-8) ‘€” Winning on the road is certainly a step in the right direction for the Browns. Their highly publicized 12 game road losing streak had to be in the back of their minds every time they traveled away from Cleveland. That’s two rare accomplishments in two straight weeks for this organization: a win against the Steelers and a win on the road.

27. (24) Cardinals (4-8) ‘€” Want to know how bad the Cardinals offense has been during their current eight game losing streak? Arizona is averaging just 11.8 points per game since October.

28. (27) Panthers (3-9) ‘€” Carolina’s defense is atrocious. They allowed the Chiefs to score three offensive touchdowns for the first time since September. Kansas City’s anemic offense managed to dominate the game and control time of possession.

29. (28) Eagles (3-9) ‘€” Andy Reid and the Eagles are going to go with Nick Foles the rest of the way, and why not? They have nothing to lose at this point besides draft position. Michael Vick can’t stay healthy for a full season, so it’s time for the Eagles to find a QB that can.

30. (32) Chiefs (2-10) ‘€” It’s truly been a nightmare of a season for Romeo Crennel and the Chiefs but give credit to the team for producing some good out of this tragic situation. The team has set up a fund for the late Jovan Belcher‘s daughter. They also have seemed to use this event as a way to rally together as an organization.

31. (31) Raiders (3-9) ‘€” The Raiders have now dropped five straight and after back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the team has once again taken a step back. This organization can’t seem to make the right decision; whether it be a starting quarterback or a head coach.

32. (30) Jaguars (2-10) ‘€” The Jaguars are averaging just over 60 rushing yards per game since Maurice Jones-Drew went down with an injury on October 21st against the Raiders. Sunday, the Jags rushing attack averaged just 2.8 yards per carry against one of the worst run defenses in the game.

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: Drew Brees, Jovan Belcher, Mark Sanchez, NFL Power Rankings
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