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NFL Power Rankings, Week 1: Packers on top, Patriots lead AFC 09.05.12 at 11:21 am ET
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The much-anticipated 2012 NFL season kicks off Wednesday night in New Jersey as the defending Super Bowl champion Giants begin defense of their crown against the Cowboys. However, the Giants won’t start the year at No. 1 in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Led by MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Packers find themselves in the familiar No. 1 spot. Eli Manning and the Giants start at No. 3.

Behind Tom Brady and a high-powered offense, the Patriots once again are poised to be one of the best teams in the league. The Patriots are the top-ranked AFC team and sit at No. 2 overall.

It’s finally time to get answers to the countless questions around the NFL. How will Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow co-exist with the Jets? Can Peyton Manning be the Peyton Manning of old? How big of an impact will the replacement officials have on the game? All of these questions and more will be answered.

Click here to listen to Mut and Merloni discuss the WEEI NFL Power Rankings.

1. Packers (15-1) ‘€” Green Bay once again sets the standard in the NFL, seeking its second Super Bowl title in three years. Over the past two seasons, the Packers are 29-8 in the regular season and playoffs.

2. Patriots (13-3) ‘€” Brady and the Patriots offense will be as explosive as ever. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd will be giving opposing teams nightmares all season long. It will be interesting to see how improved Bill Belichick‘s defense is. Rookie Chandler Jones has the potential to be an absolute force on the defensive line.

3. Giants (9-7) ‘€” Eli Manning is clutch, maybe even more so than Brady. SI’s Peter King brought up an amazing stat about the Giants QB: In his last three games against the Patriots, Manning has been behind at the two-minute warning and each time has led his team to a go-ahead touchdown.

4. 49ers (13-3) ‘€” Jim Harbaugh‘s 49ers are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. The addition of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham should be enough for Alex Smith and the offense to improve in the red zone.

5. Ravens (12-4) ‘€” Baltimore fell just one dropped pass short of the Super Bowl. People talk about the “aging” defense, but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have yet to show any signs of slowing down. On top of that, Haloti Ngata is one of the best defensive linemen in the game, and the addition of rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw gives the defense some youth.

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Read More: Eli Manning, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady
WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Training camp edition 07.26.12 at 7:13 am ET
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Training camps are underway across the NFL and it’s just 45 days until the Cowboys kick off the season against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on Sept. 5. The offseason was filled with news of free agent signings, suspensions, player arrests and comeback kids. Now it’s time to see where all 32 teams rank before the preseason and injuries begin.

The two teams that dominated the regular season in 2011 find themselves at the top. Powered by their high flying offenses, the Packers and Patriots will start the season as two of the elite teams in the league. The Giants are at No. 3 coming off their second Super Bowl victory in five years.

The Saints (7) and Broncos (10) are two notable teams in the top 10. The anticipation is building by the day to see if Peyton Manning has something left in the tank and if the Saints can overcome “Bountygate.”

And now, since football is officially in the air, here is the first edition of WEEI’s 2012 NFL Power Rankings.

Audio: Click here to listen to Mut and Merloni discuss the NFL Power Rankings.

1. Packers (15-1) ‘€” Coming off a 15-1 season, the Packers addressed their defense in the offseason. Their first six draft picks were dedicated to the defensive side of the ball, and rightfully so. Green Bay’s defense was one of the worst in the NFL in 2011. With that said, the Packers still won 15 games. There’s no doubt, the Packers have a great shot at winning their second Super Bowl in three years.

2. Patriots (13-3) ‘€” The Patriots offense, once again led by Tom Brady, speaks for itself. The addition of Brandon Lloyd adds an outside threat to the arsenal. Bill Belichick will undoubtedly focus on improving the defense during training camp, and the team brought in the personnel to ensure that it’s not the 31st-ranked defense for a second year in a row. First-round draft picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are expected to make an immediate impact. Both add a tremendous amount of athleticism to a defensive squad that struggled to defend the pass and get off the field on third down.

3. Giants (9-7) ‘€” The defending Super Bowl champs are No. 1 in another category, most difficult schedule. The Giants will face six teams that made the postseason in 2011, and don’t forget, that doesn’t include the Eagles or Cowboys. If any team is up to the challenge, it’s the G-Men. Eli Manning has proven he is indeed an elite QB in the NFL, and you can ask the Packers and Patriots about New York’s relentless pass-rushing defense.

4. 49ers (13-3) ‘€” Down to his final out, Alex Smith resurrected his career in San Francisco. It was obvious new coach Jim Harbaugh made a major impact in improving the former first overall pick. If Smith can improve on third down and in the red zone, the 49ers can once again compete for a Super Bowl. The offense finally has weapons on the outside to go along with the run game, and Vernon Davis. Randy Moss and Mario Manningham will help the Niners put points on the board.

5. Ravens (12-4) ‘€” Ray Lewis and the Ravens were so close to the Super Bowl they could taste it. They’ll once again be one of the elite teams in the NFL vying for a chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy. Joe Flacco is the biggest X-factor. In the AFC championship, he proved he can play in big games. He’ll have to be more consistent in 2012. The Ravens should once again have their signature shutdown D, even with Terrell Suggs out until November. Rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw will be relied upon to fill in for “T-Sizzle.”

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Read More: Eli Manning, NFL Power Rankings, Peyton Manning, Rex Ryan
NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Patriots take control of AFC 12.20.11 at 10:12 am ET
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A wild Week 15 in the NFL concluded with many underdogs on top. The Chiefs knocked off the Packers; the Chargers clobbered the Ravens; the Redskins upset the Giants; and the Colts prevailed over the Titans, all proving how unpredictable the NFL is with each given week. The most surprising outcome was the Chiefs victory over the Packers. Aaron Rodgers and the defending champs saw their quest for a perfect season go up in smoke. The Pack had rattled off 19 straight wins before falling to Kansas City.

The race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC took a dramatic turn as the Texans, Ravens and Steelers all fell. The Patriots now boast the best record in the AFC and are classified as the best team in the conference in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Tom Brady and the Pats now have sole control of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

AFC Playoff picture: Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Texans have all clinched.

NFC Playoff picture: Packers, Saints, 49ers have all clinched. The Lions and Falcons have a commanding lead in the wild card race.

1. (1) Packers (13-1) ‘€” One loss won’t do anything to hurt the Packers’ chances of winning the Super Bowl but losses to offensive linemen might. Injuries are piling up on Aaron Rodgers‘ line. Center Scott Wells and guard Josh Sitton are the only two Week 1 starters who are healthy. Brian Bulaga, Chad Clifton and Derek Sherod are all injured. The Chiefs laid out the blueprint on how to beat the Packers: Relentlessly rush Aaron Rodgers and disrupt the Packers receivers’ routes.

2. (3) Saints (11-3) ‘€” The Saints will be a very dangerous team when the playoffs begin. Stopping Drew Brees and the Saints offense looks like an impossible task. Brees is on pace to shatter Dan Marino‘s single season passing yards record. He also has a career high 37 touchdown passes.

3. (5) Patriots (11-3) ‘€” The Patriots offense once again showed how versatile it is. Aaron Hernandez stepped up as the go-to receiver for Tom Brady since the Broncos decided to take Rob Gronkowski out of the game as best they could. There certainly is no shortage of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. The defense is a different story. The loss of Andre Carter, the team’s best pass rusher, is a devastating blow for the Patriots. The pass defense needs all the help it can get and a lack of rush on the quarterback is only going to make it more difficult on the secondary.

4. (6) 49ers (11-3) ‘€” Capitalizing on red zone opportunities is one thing the 49ers know they have to do better. They took a step in the right direction Monday night when they scored touchdowns on two of their three trips inside the Steelers’ 20. However, on one of those occasions, they were helped out by a Steelers personal foul penalty on fourth down. Entering the playoffs, they’ll have one of the worst offenses in the NFC but one of the best defenses. If they can improve in the red zone, the Niners will be a dangerous team.

5. (2) Ravens (10-4) ‘€” Joe Flacco could be a reason why the Ravens fail to make it to the Super Bowl. He has been terribly inconsistent this year and very rarely do we see teams with mediocre quarterbacks win the Super Bowl. The fourth-year QB isn’t fooling any defenses with his throws. At times, he’s predetermining where he is going to throw the football and that has led to interceptions. Ray Rice also had just 10 carries in the loss. In the Ravens’ four losses, Rice has had 13, 8, 5 and 10 carries. See the trend?

6. (4) Steelers (10-4) ‘€” It might be time for the Steelers to seriously consider shutting down Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of the regular season. The chances of winning the division and clinching the No. 1 seed went out the window with the loss to the Niners. The Ravens’ two remaining games are against the Browns and Bengals. The Steelers will have a much better shot in the playoffs with a healthy Roethlisberger. It’s not worth the risk of playing “Big Ben” and having him further aggravate his ankle injury.

7. (8) Falcons (9-5) ‘€” The much anticipated rematch between the Falcons and Saints will finally arrive this Monday night. Running the ball and setting the tempo with Michael Turner is an obvious key to Atlanta’s success but Julio Jones is a major factor as well. The last time these two teams met, rookie WR Julio Jones missed most of the game with a hamstring injury. Jones, along with Roddy White, will make it extremely difficult for the Saints defense to stop the Falcons offense.

8. (11) Lions (9-5) ‘€”For the fourth time this season, the Lions have come back from a double digit deficit. Matthew Stafford and the Lions are now in a prime position to clinch a playoff spot. For a city that has watched their team average 12 losses per season since 2001, postseason football would come as quite a welcome gift under the tree.

9. (7) Texans (10-4) ‘€” Turnovers are becoming a growing concern for Gary Kubiak. The Texans coach has watched his team give away the football nine times over the past four games. Arian Foster is responsible for four of those nine. The dynamic running back must shoulder the load for the offense with Matt Schaub out.

10. (10) Giants (7-7) ‘€” For the second time this year, the Giants lost to the Redskins. Eli Manning had his worst game of the season on Sunday but the Giants defense should shoulder a lot of the blame as well. The pass rush is ineffective and the secondary continues to give up big plays. They couldn’t get off the field on third down against Rex Grossman. The Redskins possessed the ball for 35 of the 60 minutes.

11. (12) Cowboys (8-6) ‘€” It’s amazing how fast a team’s fortunes can change in the NFL. After a demoralizing loss to the Giants last week, the Cowboys are back in the driver’s seat in the NFC East race because of the Redskins’ upset victory over New York. Felix Jones will be key to the Cowboys success. Tony Romo needs a strong run game to balance the offense and keep opposing teams on their toes. The division title is on the line the next two weeks. If the Cowboys can beat the Eagles and Giants, they’ll be division champs.

12. (15) Chargers (7-7) ‘€” Undefeated in December but winless in November; the Chargers are finally playing great football but the possibility of the postseason is slim. Right now, no team wants to play San Diego. The Chargers are winning by an average of 23 points-per-game in December. Look no further than Philip Rivers for the main reason for the recent success. Rivers has not thrown an interception during the current winning streak but threw 17 leading up to it.

13. (9) Jets (8-6) ‘€” The Jets D was torched for 420 total yards. It was obvious the absence of Jim Leonhard had an adverse effect on the defense. Tight end Brent Celek had a career game with 156 yards and a touchdown and running back LeSean McCoy averaged over five yards-per-carry. Offensively, it’s beginning to become clear that Mark Sanchez is incapable of leading the Jets to the Super Bowl. He now has thrown 13 interceptions and his 57.9 completion percentage is one of the worst in the league.

14. (13) Broncos (8-6) ‘€” Tim Tebow helped win games for the Broncos because he protected the football and didn’t turn it over. That didn’t happen Sunday against the Patriots. Tebow and two of his teammates were responsible for three fumbles, all of which resulted in points for the opposition. The good news for the Broncos is that they face the Bills in Week 16 and still are in a great position to win the division.

15. (21) Eagles (6-8) ‘€” The Eagles have won two straight games for the first time this season. This talented team is finally starting to show signs of why many predicted them to reach the Super Bowl. The defense has made a huge difference over the last two games. The Eagles D has a total of 13 sacks and seven turnovers in that span.

16. (18) Bengals (8-6) ‘€” Thanks to some great drafting, rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are becoming a lethal quarterback-wide receiver duo with loads of potential for the future. Dalton has already surpassed 3,000 yards for the year and Green has surpassed 1,000.

17. (16) Raiders (7-7) ‘€” Simply put, the Raiders are not a playoff caliber team. The potential and talent is there, but they shoot themselves in the foot week after week with penalties, turnovers and mistakes. The defense constantly let up big plays to the Lions. Matthew Stafford connected on 51- and 39-yard touchdown passes. He also drove his team down the field on a game-winning 98 yard touchdown drive with 1:35 left to play.

18. (14) Titans (7-7) ‘€” The opportunity was there but the Titans squandered away a great chance to take control of the one wild card spot remaining in the AFC. Matt Hasselbeck threw two costly interceptions; one was returned for a touchdown and another was in the red zone. Chris Johnson was stifled once again as well. The Titans are 4-0 when Johnson reaches 100 yards but he turned in a subpar performance against the winless Colts. The offensive line can also be blamed for failing to open holes for the run game.

19. (19) Cardinals (7-7) ‘€” Unfortunately for the Cardinals, numbers don’t lie and John Skelton is 5-1 as the starter. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb has a $63 million contract but a 2-6 record. Quietly, Skelton has become the “Tim Tebow” of the Cardinals. The second year QB struggles to pass the ball but somehow finds a way to win consistently in the fourth quarter.

20. (20) Seahawks (7-7) ‘€” The soaring Seahawks have won five of their last six games. Marshawn Lynch went over 1,000 yards rushing for the first time since 2008. He’s been the leading force in the Seahawks offense but now will have to do even more. Wide receiver Mike Williams joined fellow receiver Sidney Rice on IR.

21. (17) Bears (7-7) ‘€” The Bears have lost four straight games since Jay Cutler went down. Caleb Hanie has thrown three interceptions in three out of his four games he’s started. It’s extremely difficult to win in the NFL when a team loses its turnover battle and the Bears continue to do just that. They’ve turned the ball over 12 times since the Cutler injury.

22. (22) Dolphins (5-9) ‘€” The Reggie Bush pickup has added a great weapon on the Dolphins offense. The team is using Bush as the featured running back and it is paying off. His touches have increased as the season has progressed and it’s one of the reasons the Dolphins have won five of their last seven.

23. (25) Chiefs (6-8) ‘€” Romeo Crennel is doing his best to convince Scott Pioli that he is the right man for the head coaching vacancy in Kansas City. The Chiefs had a tremendous defensive game plan against the Packers. Kyle Orton‘s performance should also be noted. Orton threw for 299 yards and no interceptions.

24. (26) Panthers (5-9) ‘€” Cam Newton and the Panthers enjoyed their first win against a team over .500 on Sunday. Against one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Panthers put up 28 points on the Texans. The Texans haven’t allowed that many points since Week 6.

25. (27) Redskins (5-9) ‘€” The Redskins can go into the offseason knowing they beat the Giants twice and played some very competitive games against quality opponents in 2011. Rookies Roy Helu and Ryan Kerrigan have  made significant contributions to the team and both will be major pieces for the Redskins going forward.

26. (24) Bills (5-9) ‘€”Ryan Fitzpatrick has been one of the main reasons the Bills are amid a seven-game losing streak. He has a league-high 19 interceptions. Twelve of those picks have come during the current losing streak. The defense has been horrendous as well. The Bills D has allowed an average of 32 points-per-game during the losing streak.

27. (23) Buccaneers (4-10) ‘€” The longest losing streak in the NFL now belongs to the Bucs. The eight straight losses have made it clear that Raheem Morris‘ team is not responding to his coaching. Penalties, mental breakdowns and turnovers continue to hurt the Bucs week after week. Josh Freeman has regressed in 2011 and LeGarrette Blount has failed to establish any type of run game in the offense. In the latest lost, the Bucs defense allowed 28 first downs while converting only seven on offense.

28. (28) Browns (4-10) ‘€” The Browns will end another dismal season against the Ravens and Steelers. Finishing the year anything but 4-12 will be a major shock. Cleveland currently has a total of 44 loses since 2008.

29. (29) Jaguars (4-10) ‘€” Blaine Gabbert looked like a boy playing against men in the Jaguars’ latest lost. Gabbert has been a disappointment compared to his fellow starting rookie quarterbacks in the league. The uncertainty at head coach could be a factor. Even when Jack Del Rio was there it seemed like only a matter of time until he would get his walking papers and Mel Tucker is a defensive-minded coach.

30. (30) Vikings (2-12) ‘€” The Vikings are allowing an average of 29 points-per-game. For the third straight week, the defense allowed 30 or more points. Christan Ponder has also struggled lately. The rookie has thrown at least one interception in three consecutive games.

31. (31) Rams (2-12) ‘€” The beleaguered Rams offense is one of the worst in the league, averaging just 11.9 points-per-game. They rank 31st in third-down conversions and went just 2-13 in their latest loss.

32. (32) Colts (1-13) ‘€” The players and coaches are relieved they finally put a W in the win column, but now the Colts’ chances of getting the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft are in jeopardy. Indy has games against the Texans and Jaguars remaining. The Jaguars game is a very winnable matchup. Meanwhile, the Rams play the Steelers and 49ers.

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

Read More: aaron rodgers, Drew Brees, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow
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”.

1. (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.

3. (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.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: aaron rodgers, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady
WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 14 12.06.11 at 7:23 am ET
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We learned a lot from Week 13. The Packers (1) and 49ers (4) clinched their respective divisions; the Bears (16) season is on life-support; the Bengals (18) can not contend with the elite teams in the league, Tim Tebow and the Broncos (13) are in first place; and Madonna will be performing at halftime during the Super Bowl.

The top six teams in WEEI’s NFL Power Rankings were victorious in Week 13. Teams ranked No.7-11 were a different story. The Falcons (8), Cowboys (10), Lions (12), Raiders (14), and Bears (16) all drop in the rankings. Meanwhile, the Jets (9) and Broncos (13) both climb.

The final four weeks of the NFL season are set to begin. The NFC East race is one of the most intriguing. The Giants (11) and Cowboys (10) will face off twice for the right to represent the division in the postseason. The series matchup starts this week in Dallas. Meanwhile, the race in the AFC for one wildcard spot seems destined to go down to the wire. Teams like the Jets, Raiders, Broncos, Titans, and Bengals are all in the hunt.

1. (1) Packers (12-0) ‘€” The Packers were tied in the fourth quarter for the first time this season. That’s a testament to how dominant the defending Super Bowl champs have been. They’ve now won 18 straight games and will surely wrap up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The road to Indianapolis will go through Green Bay. NFC teams should be scared.

2. (2) Ravens (9-3) ‘€” The Ravens should finish the season 13-3 with games against the Colts, Chargers, Browns and Bengals remaining. It’s very important they take care of business and win out to soldify at least one home game in the playoffs. Ray Rice proved on Sunday that he is the motor that moves the Ravens offense. The elite running back rushed for over 200 yards.

3. (3) Saints (9-3) ‘€” The Saints couldn’t have picked a better time to be playing their best football of the season. It seems impossible to game plan against Drew Brees and the Saints offense. The pass defense has been the biggest cause for concern this season. However, they did a great job shutting down elite receiver Calvin Johnson on Sunday night.

4. (4) 49ers (10-2) ‘€” For the first time since 2002, the 49ers can call themselves division champs. The Niners defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher or a rushing touchdown all season. Running backs such as Steven Jackson, Ray Rice, and LeSean McCoy have all run into the 49ers D with little success. On the other side of the ball, Frank Gore is leading a productive rushing attack. Alex Smith is benefitting from the solid run game more than anyone. The young QB is managing games, not trying to do too much on the field, and has thrown just five interceptions.

5. (5) Steelers (9-3) ‘€” The Steelers are proud owners of the No. 1 defense in the league. The defending AFC champs look primed to make another strong playoff run. Ben Roethlisberger has shown no ill-effects from his thumb injury and James Harrison is starting to amp up the dominant Steelers pass rush.

6. (6) Patriots (9-3) ‘€” Playing 60 minutes of football seems to be challenge for the Patriots. Their fourth-quarter performance was alarming to say the least. The Colts rallied for 21 points in the last 15 minutes of the game. The cupcake schedule continues this week against the Redskins. They won’t play a top caliber quarterback until the playoffs. We won’t find out how good this team actually is until January.

7. (12) Texans (9-3) ‘€” The injuries keep piling up, but the wins keep coming in. The Texans are a resilient, gritty team that refuses to give up, no matter what player goes down with an injury. Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips and the entire Texans coaching staff deserve much praise for what this team has done. The rags to riches story on defense has been one of the best storylines in the NFL this year.

8. (7) Falcons (7-5) ‘€” Dropped passes and a struggling run game is a bad combination. The Falcons had both in Sunday’s loss to the Texans. Star wide-receiver Roddy White leads the league with 11 dropped balls. Michael Turner was unable to get anything going against the Texans. The result is usually not good when the Falcons fail to run the ball effectively.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 13 11.29.11 at 9:58 am ET
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Which team do you think has the best shot to beat the top-ranked Packers? The Giants (14), Raiders (10), Chiefs (23), Bears (11), and Lions (9) are the five remaining teams standing in the way of the Packers‘ quest for an undefeated season. Green Bay’s cushion for the top spot in the NFC got a little bigger as the 49ers (4) lost for just the second time this season.

The Patriots (6) and Cowboys (8) continued to gradually inch their way up the chart as both teams are enjoying winning streaks. Meanwhile,  the Bears (11) slide out of the top 10 after a loss to the Raiders (10) and the Texans (12) stay put despite winning their fifth consecutive game.

The playoff picture is starting to unfold. Teams like the Bengals (15), Jets (13), Titans (16) and Broncos (18) are all fighting for the final wild card berth in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Giants (14), Falcons (7), Lions (9) and Bears (11) will battle for the two wild card spots in the NFC.

1. (1) Packers (11-0) ‘€” The Packers aren’t even giving teams a chance. The Vikings are the only opponent that hasn’t been beaten by a touchdown or more. They lost by six in Week 7. Aaron Rodgers and the defending champions look like an unstoppable train. Last year, they squeezed into the playoffs and won every playoff game on the road. Now, they’re just a few weeks away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home field throughout.

2. (3) Ravens (8-3) ‘€” The dominating defensive performance from the Ravens against the 49ers proved they are one of the elite teams in the league. Without defensive leader Ray Lewis, the Ravens D had nine sacks, held Frank Gore to just 39 yards, and went 10-for-12 on third-down stops. The Ravens are in an excellent position to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs with four of their remaining five games coming against teams with a below .500 record.

3. (5) Saints (8-3) ‘€” Drew Brees and the Saints offense looked like a well-oiled machine during Monday Night Football. Brees has now thrown for 300-plus yards eight times this year. One of the biggest factors has been the production from the run game. Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram have provided a great balance to the offense.

4. (2) 49ers (9-2) ‘€” After being sacked nine times, Alex Smith shot up to No.3 on the quarterback sacks list. Nine sacks in one game is inexcusable; it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. The offensive line wasn’t the only one to blame. Smith held the ball too long at times and his receivers struggled to get open. Fortunately for the Niners, four of their remaining five games are against NFC West opponents.

5. (4) Steelers (8-3) ‘€” Injuries are starting to become a growing concern for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Maurkice Pouncey are all battling injuries. It’s extremely important Roethlisberger’s offensive line steps up the protection so he doesn’t suffer a setback to his injured thumb. The offensive line has been shaky all year and Big Ben has endured an endless amount of hits.

6. (7) Patriots (8-3) ‘€” The Pats defense needs to make stops on third down, cause turnovers and continue to stop the run in order to surmount the awful pass D. The Patriots have done that over the past three games and have shown signs of improvement. The only thing they can do now is continue to progress and get healthy as they play out their schedule against a group of inferior teams. There’s no reason why Tom Brady and the Pats shouldn’t be 13-3 when the season ends.

7. (6) Falcons (7-4) ‘€” The Falcons have won five of their last six games and are starting to get into a groove. Matt Ryan has played extremely well over the past few weeks. He’s protecting the football and has a high completion percentage. Ryan completed 79.4 percent of his passes and had a 128 QB rating in Sunday’s win over the Vikings.

8. (11) Cowboys (7-4) ‘€” The first-place Cowboys will face another below .500 opponent in Week 13 before their showdown in Dallas against the Giants. The G-Men, meanwhile, will face the undefeated Packers. The Cowboys could very possibly have a commanding two-game lead in the NFC East by the time Week 14 rolls around. The even-better news that came out of Dallas was that cornerback Mike Jenkins returned to practice and will likely play Sunday against the Cardinals after missing four straight games.

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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.

1. (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.

2. (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.

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.

5. (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.

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.

8. (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.

9. (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.

11. (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.

12. (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.

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.

14. (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.

15. (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.

17. (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.

20. (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.

21. (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.

22. (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.

23. (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.

24. (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.

25. (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.

26. (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.

27. (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.

28. (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.

29. (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.

30. (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.

31. (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 You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

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