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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.

Houston Texans1. (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.

New England Patriots 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.

San Francisco 49ers 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.

Denver Broncos 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.

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