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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Niners, Broncos pull ahead of Patriots 12.18.12 at 10:42 am ET
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For the second straight week, the No. 1 team has been dethroned in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. After falling to the Niners at home, the Patriots drop to No. 3 while San Francisco leaps to the top of the class. Nine straight wins has propelled the Broncos all the way to the No. 2 spot, and the red-hot Seahawks fly jump to No. 7.

The Giants (8), Ravens (9) and Steelers (15) all plummet as those three teams are a combined 2-7 in the month of December. With just two games to go, many teams are fighting for their playoff lives. The NFC race will be fascinating as six teams — Giants, Redskins (10), Bears (11) Cowboys (12), Seahawks and Vikings (16) — fight for three remaining spots.

As usual, the Jaguars (32), Chiefs (31), Raiders (30) and Eagles (29) remain the bottom feeders of the NFL.

1. (2) 49ers (10-3-1) ‘€” Yes, the Niners blew a 28-point lead, but they also went into Gillette Stadium and beat the red-hot Patriots in December. It was very impressive that they were able to keep their composure after losing the lead. In the end, the best defense in the league beat the best offense. 

2. (3) Broncos (11-3) ‘€” With games against two of the worst teams in the league remaining, the Broncos should wrap up the regular season and go into the playoffs with a first-round bye and 11 consecutive wins. 

3. (1) Patriots (10-4) ‘€” The road to the Super Bowl got a little tougher, but the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. No team in the AFC will want to play New England once the playoffs begin. Putting up 31 points in a half against the best defense in the league without Rob Gronkowski is pretty impressive.

4. (4) Texans (12-2) ‘€” The number of big plays the Houston defense has allowed over the past few weeks has to be concerning to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The Texans have given up a 30-plus, an 80-plus, and three 60-plus-yard touchdown passes in their last five games.

5. (5) Falcons (12-2) ‘€”  As the playoffs draw near, the Falcons made their best case on Sunday for why teams should be afraid to play them this postseason. This is a mentally tough, resilient and well-rounded football team.

6. (6) Packers (10-4) ‘€” Packers fans are optimistic their team will make another deep postseason run. Green Bay has won eight of its last nine, has wrapped up the NFC North, and is getting healthy at the right time.

7. (9) Seahawks (9-5) ‘€” Since November, the Seahawks have scored 210 points and are averaging 35 points per game. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch have developed into one of the best quarterback-running back tandems in the league.

8. (7) Giants (8-6) ‘€” The inconsistent play at the end of the regular season has to catch up to them eventually, right? It’s hard to count the Giants out after what they did in ’07 and ’11, but they have put themselves in a very dangerous position with just two games to go.

9. (8) Ravens (9-5) ‘€” The Ravens need to find a way to stop the negative momentum that has built up in December. The best way to do that is for Joe Flacco to focus on protecting the football. Flacco has turned the ball over six times this month with three interceptions and three fumbles.

10. (13) Redskins (8-6) ‘€” It’s amazing how this team has gone from out of playoff contention to first place in the NFC East. The Redskins control their destiny — two more wins and they can call themselves division champs for the first time since 1999.

11. (10) Bears (8-6) ‘€” What good is Jay Cutler if he can’t beat the Packers? The Bears QB is 1-6 against Green Bay since joining the NFC North. It’s hard to imagine that a team that started the season 7-1 could miss the playoffs. Chicago controlled the division for most of the season but lost both of its games to Green Bay this year.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, joe flacco, Mark Sanchez
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Patriots charge to No. 1 12.13.12 at 7:14 am ET
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The mighty have fallen. After seven straight weeks occupying the top two spots, the Texans (4) and Falcons (5) no longer can be called the two best teams in the league. The Patriots surge all the way to the No. 1 spot for the first time this season after a dominating Monday night performance. The 49ers (2) and Broncos (3) round out the new top three.

The Seahawks (9) finally break into the top 10 after winning four of their last five games. Their impressive play of late has catapulted them in front of both the Bears (10) and Steelers (12). The Colts are another team that continues to inch closer into the league’s elite. Andrew Luck has Indy (11) poised to make a playoff appearance after the team won just two games last year.

The top two teams in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings rarely play each other, not to mention in December, but we’ll get to watch the regular-season version of the Super Bowl this Sunday night. That’s not the only top-10 matchup we’ll see in Week 15. The Broncos (3) play the Ravens (8), and the Giants (7) will take on the Falcons (5). We’re in for another interesting week of pro football.

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

1. (3) Patriots (10-3) ‘€” The Patriots defense did what it had to do: improve. Bill Belichick‘s D held the Texans to just 14 points. The only other team in the league that was able to hold Houston to fewer points was the Bears. Under Tom Brady, the Pats have won a remarkable 20 straight home games in the month of December. Super Bowl-caliber teams get better in December and that’s just what New England is doing once again.

2. (4) 49ers (9-3-1) ‘€” The relentless 49ers defense is at the top of the league in pass defense, run defense and points allowed. Sunday night’s matchup pits the best defense in the league against the best offense. Football fans are in for a treat.

3. (5) Broncos (10-3) ‘€” The way Knowshon Moreno has been able to step up and fill Willis McGahee‘s shoes is very encouraging for Broncos fans. With Peyton Manning at the helm, an effective run game makes the Broncos offense extremely difficult to defend against.

4. (1) Texans (11-2) ‘€” Are the Texans good enough to rebound from a loss like this? Their pass defense has officially been exposed. On a big stage, the Texans crumbled. Stupid penalties, turnovers and an overall lack of competitiveness has many across the NFL questioning if this team is as good as its record indicates.

5. (2) Falcons (11-2) ‘€” The Falcons have a tremendous opportunity this Sunday to prove to the NFC that they are an elite team. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants will be in Atlanta and both teams have a lot on the line.

6. (7) Packers (9-4) ‘€” Green Bay has won seven of its last eight and has come storming back to take control of the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers has been terrific, though it has been production from the run game over the last two weeks that has made a huge difference on offense for Green Bay.

7. (8) Giants (8-5) ‘€” Keep an eye on the NFC East race and the Giants. New York travels to Atlanta and Baltimore the next two weeks while the Redskins and Cowboys are just one game back and hold a better divisional record.

8. (6) Ravens (9-4) ‘€” It’s never a good sign for a playoff team to fire its offensive coordinator in December. Unlike the Patriots and Broncos, the Ravens have played worse as the season has progressed. If recent play is any sign, the Ravens look to be on track for falling just short of the Super Bowl once again.

9. (11) Seahawks (8-5) ‘€” There have to be many organizations out there that are extremely jealous of the Seahawks’ recent success. This is a team that not only drafted a quarterback in the third round but started him over Matt Flynn after signing the former backup to a three-year deal. Teams struggling to find a quarterback like the Cardinals, Jets and Bills must be envious. Russell Wilson has played outstanding of late. In his last five games, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

10. (9) Bears (8-5) ‘€” Jay Cutler‘s health is imperative to the Bears’ success. Everyone watched the Bears go 1-5 last year at the end of the season when Cutler was injured. The starting QB has been sacked 31 times this year and already has suffered a concussion. The offensive line has to get better if this team is going to be successful. Chicago has dropped four of its last five.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Bruce Arians, NFL Power Rankings, Rex Ryan
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.

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Read More: Drew Brees, Jovan Belcher, Mark Sanchez, NFL Power Rankings
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Patriots move up to No. 4 11.27.12 at 9:39 am ET
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The bye weeks are over and now every team in the NFL has played the same number of games. If we’ve learned anything through the first three months of the current season, it’s that there are a lot of mediocre and below-average teams. There are six teams with a 4-7 record, five with a 6-5 record, and four with a 5-6 record. The Steelers (10) are practically begging to be dropped out of the top 10, but no one is worthy to rise into that elite group.

The Texans (1), Falcons (2) and Niners (3) have maintained stability at the top. At a combined 28-4-1, those three teams continue to roll. Inching closer and closer are the red-hot Patriots. They jump up one spot for the second straight week and sit at No. 4. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers get sacked out of the top five and drop to No. 8.

Week 13’s Monday night matchup should be a much more enjoyable game to watch than last night’s painful display of two equally uninspiring 3-8 teams — the Panthers (27) and Eagles (28). The Giants (7) take on RG3 and the Redskins (15) in an NFC East showdown.

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

1. (1) Texans (10-1) ‘€” Ten quarters of football in just five days. It’s amazing they have been able to endure and come out on top in both games. Super Bowl-caliber teams are resilient, and the Texans have proven they can overcome any deficit. Expect the Texans to bounce back defensively next week against the Titans.

2. (2) Falcons (10-1) ‘€” Week after week the Falcons continue to find ways to win, and doubters continue to question if Matt Ryan‘s team is capable of being successful in the playoffs. It’s a fair question due to the fact that Ryan is 0-3 in the postseason, but the Falcons still deserve to be considered one of the best in the NFL since they’ve found a way to win 10 of 11 times this year.

3. (3) 49ers (8-2-1) ‘€” No defense is as physical and dominant as the Niners. San Fran’s D proved its dominance once again against one of the hottest offenses in the league. Going into Sunday’s game, the Saints were clicking on all cylinders in the month of November. They were averaging 32 points per game and Drew Brees had a 72.5 completion percentage with a 125.5 QB rating. Against the Niners, the Saints offense was held to just 21 points (its second-lowest total of the year). Brees’ completion percentage dropped nearly 10 points and his QB rating dropped nearly 40 points. 

4. (5) Patriots (8-3) ‘€” There is just one team in the NFL averaging over 30 points per game, and that’s the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick‘s team has stampeded over opposing defenses and has averaged 37 points per game. The last four games have been even more impressive. The Pats have put up 190 points. That’s more points than the Chiefs, Cardinals, Eagles and Jaguars have scored all season.

5. (6) Ravens (9-2) ‘€” What are they feeding their linebackers in Baltimore? First it was Terrell Suggs remarkably returning from his torn Achilles much earlier than expected. Now, Ray Lewis reportedly will return before the regular season ends after many thought the veteran linebacker’s career might be over due to his triceps injury.

6. (7) Broncos (8-3) ‘€”Peyton Manning helped the Broncos extend their winning streak to six games in Kansas City on Sunday. The Broncos offense sputtered a bit in it’s first game without Willis McGahee. Facing one of the worst run defenses in the game, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman rushed for 94 yards. Going into the game, the Chiefs were allowing an average of more than 125 yards.

7. (9) Giants (7-4) ‘€” The Giants did exactly what they had to do coming off their bye week and two straight losses. If they can stay healthy, no team in the NFC will want to face them in the playoffs.

8. (4) Packers (7-4) ‘€” The Packers were forced to reshuffle their offensive line after starting tackle Brian Bulaga was lost for the season. Facing a strong Giants pass rush, Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times. The Packers have a major problem on their hands if the pass protection doesn’t improve.

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Read More: 49ers, aaron rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, Falcons
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Patriots jump to No. 5 11.20.12 at 9:08 am ET
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It was a shaky week for many in the top 10. The Texans (1) and Falcons (2) survived scares against lower-caliber teams. The Patriots (5) lost Rob Gronkowski for 4-6 weeks, the Broncos (7) lost Willis McGahee, and the Ravens (6) won’t have Ed Reed in Week 12 due to an NFL suspension. Meanwhile, the Steelers (10) saw another one of their quarterbacks go down with a rib injury, and the offensive line of the Bears (8) looked like a turnstile against the Niners. Still, the elite 10 posted a 7-2 record in Week 11 and remain the cream of the crop in the NFL.

The Saints miraculously have become relevant again after dropping their first four games. They jump all the way to No. 12. In Philadelphia, the Eagles have hit an all-time low and drop to No. 27 as pressure to fire Andy Reid, the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, increases.

The top 10 teams have been dominant for most of the year but are starting to show some vulnerability. As Thanksgiving approaches, could one or two of them relinquish their spot among the NFL’s elite? It certainly seems possible now that teams like the Bears and Steelers are staggering while the Saints and Seahawks (11) are rolling.

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss this edition of the power rankings.

1. (1) Texans (9-1) ‘€” The final sign we needed to determine if the Texans truly are a great team came Sunday. They overcame a late deficit and won. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson also showed the league that the offense can do more than just run the ball with Arian Foster. The play of the secondary does have to raise an eyebrow. Chad Henne looked like a Pro Bowler against them. The Jaguars have one of the worst — if not the worst — offenses in the league and were able to complete three pass plays of 60 or more yards.

2. (2) Falcons (9-1) ‘€” Say what you will about the Falcons, but more times than not they come out on top. This is a resilient football team that’s overcome many deficits. One cause for concern is the lack of production from Michael Turner. This offense has been great in the past due to the team’s ability to run and pass the ball effectively. This has been the first time in Turner’s Falcons career that he’s averaged less than four yards per carry.

3. (3) 49ers (7-2-1) ‘€” Quarterback controversy in San Fran? Jim Harbaugh wasn’t willing to say who his starting QB will be if Alex Smith is cleared to play. Smith is 20-6-1 in games he’s started since 2011. The decision to not publicly back Smith could hurt the Niners. You don’t want your starter lacking confidence and looking over his shoulder. Has Colin Kaepernick proven enough that he can replace Smith?

4. (4) Packers (7-3) ‘€” No Clay Matthews, no problem. It’s usually the Packers offense that gets the glory in Green Bay, but after Sunday’s win the defense deserves some credit. Four forced turnovers, five sacks and seven QB hits against Matthew Stafford and the Lions.

5. (6) Patriots (7-3) ‘€” No Gronk will hurt, but the tight end position is one of great depth on the Patriots and they should be able to make do until he returns. The Patriots are a ridiculous plus-20 in giveaway/takeaway margin with 27 forced turnovers and just seven giveaways.

6. (7) Ravens (8-2) ‘€” The suspension of Ed Reed is a major blow to an already weak secondary. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are already out with injuries. The Ravens desperately want to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs. With New England and Denver breathing down their neck, they can’t afford to lose any ground.

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Read More: Andy Reid, Ed Reed, NFL Power Rankings, Rob Gronkowski
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 11: Big-name quarterbacks go down, reshaping top 10 11.13.12 at 11:12 am ET
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Undefeated no more. The Falcons were grounded for the first time this season, and thus dropped to No. 2 in WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Rising up to take their No. 1 spot are the Texans. The Niners (3), Packers (4) and Bears (5) round off the top five for a second straight week. The top 10, meanwhile, saw three quarterbacks suffer injuries. Jay Cutler, Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger left their games and did not return. If any of these quarterbacks miss time it could greatly affect playoff seedings in both conferences.

Michael Vick also suffered a concussion, but his injury is less impactful since the Eagles’ chances of making the playoffs are slim to none. The Saints marched up three spots to No. 14 after knocking off the Falcons. The Bucs also jumped a few spots to No. 15.

As Week 11 rolls in, it’s pretty clear which teams are the pretenders and which teams are the contenders. However, the recent slew of quarterback injuries puts an interesting twist to the playoff race.

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni and Zarbano discuss this week’s NFL Power Rankings.

1. (2) Texans (8-1) ‘€” The Texans now have two impressive road wins against the Broncos and Bears. How a team performs against a solid opponent on the road is a true measure of how good it really is. The Texans went into Chicago, forced four turnovers, and proved to the league they are a force with whom to be reckoned.

2. (1) Falcons (8-1) ‘€” Sometimes a loss can help a team realize in what areas it needs to improve. “It’s going to make us a better football team,” Tony Gonzalez said to “I guarantee it.” With Gonzalez’ 16 years of experience, it’s tough to argue with the tight end.

3. (3) 49ers (6-2-1) ‘€” Alex Smith is doing much better, according to Jim Harbaugh, after suffering a concussion Sunday. The Niners will face the Bears on Monday night in what could be a battle for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. They’ll need Smith against one of the most relentless defenses in the league.

4. (4) Packers (6-3) ‘€” The offensive line will be shaken up as a result of the Packers placing starting right tackle Brian Bulaga on injured reserve. Guard T.J. Lang will be forced to move to tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith will come off the bench and start at guard. The Packers are an extremely beaten up team with many key players nursing injuries.

5. (5) Bears (7-2) ‘€” The Bears were 7-3 last year when Jay Cutler went down with an injury. They finished their last six games of the season with a 1-5 record and missed the playoffs without their starting QB. Cutler won’t miss the rest of the season, but the Bears may lose some critical ground in the NFC while he is recovering from his concussion.

6. (6) Patriots (6-3) ‘€”It’s hard to see this Patriots team make the Super Bowl if the defense continues to play this poorly. There are too many good quarterbacks in the AFC who are capable of exposing the Pats D in the playoffs. One positive about this defense is that it is very opportunistic. New England leads the league in turnover ratio with a plus-16.

7. (8) Ravens (7-2) ‘€” Two of their next three games are against the Steelers. The Ravens are entering a crucial stretch in their season when they have a great opportunity to gain some separation in the AFC North with the injury to Ben Roethlisberger.

8. (9) Broncos (6-3) ‘€” Denver is clicking on all cylinders. Peyton Manning has been the story, but the team’s defense has contributed as well. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have contributed to 17 of the team’s league-leading 31 sacks.

9. (7) Steelers (6-3) ‘€” Any hope of winning the division went out the window when Ben Roethlisberger got injured on Monday night. The timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate for Steelers fans, as this team was just starting to get on a roll.

10. (10) Giants (6-4) ‘€” We’ve seen this before from the Giants at this point of the season, so you can’t count them out. However, Eli Manning and the offense have been horrendous. Manning hasn’t thrown a TD pass in his last 99 attempts.

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Read More: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, NFL Power Rankings, Patriots
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 10: Falcons continue to sit at top 11.06.12 at 11:15 am ET
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The Falcons remain the only undefeated team in the NFL at 8-0 and fly atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings once again. Breathing down their necks for the No. 1 spot in the conference are the Bears. Chicago finally moves into the NFC-dominated top five after an impressive performance against the Titans.

We’re nine weeks into the season, and one of the main storylines has been the emergence of the rookies. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and Doug Martin all have made significant impacts. Luck has helped lift the Colts all the way to the No. 15 spot.

Week 10 games to watch: No. 2 Texans at No. 5 Bears, No. 12 Cowboys at No. 20 Eagles, and No. 1 Falcons at No. 17 Saints.

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

1. (1) Falcons (8-0) ‘€” They’ve found a way to win in each of their eight games, and that’s all that matters. Since 1978, 15 teams have started the season 8-0, and six have gone on to win the Super Bowl.

2. (2) Texans (7-1) ‘€” The three-headed offensive attack of Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson was in full force on Sunday. The Texans have a lot of talent on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

3. (4) 49ers (6-2) ‘€” The Niners have a great opportunity to deliver a second championship to the city of San Francisco in five months. Coming off an impressive overall performance, this team has proven why it is one of the most balanced in the league.

4. (5) Packers (6-3) ‘€” The bye week couldn’t come at a better time for a decimated Packers team. Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings are just a few of the key players who are nursing injuries.

5. (6) Bears (7-1) ‘€” The Bears will have an opportunity to prove they are an elite team in the NFL the next two weeks when they take on the Texans and then the 49ers. The Bears defense loves to score, with seven interception returns for touchdowns.

6. (7) Patriots (5-3) ‘€” Give the Patriots credit for upgrading at a position that was a serious weakness. The Aqib Talib acquisition has the potential to be a difference-maker as to whether the team reaches the Super Bowl or not.

7. (10) Steelers (5-3) ‘€” What has gotten into the Steelers run game? Pittsburgh running backs have rushed for over 100 yards in three straight games. The added production has done wonders for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense.

8. (8) Ravens (6-2) ‘€” Many were calling for more carries for Ray Rice, and it seems like John Harbaugh listened. Rice had a season-high 25 carries against the Browns. Ravens fans now should worry about the injuries that have decimated the defense. A number of starters are out and Haloti Ngata is playing through a bevy of injuries.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Bill Belichick, Doug Martin, NFL Power Rankings



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