NFC North: 2013 NFL Week 16 Power Rankings

A weekly examination of the Bears' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 13 | Power Ranking since 2002

The Chicago Bears remained at No. 13 in the Power Rankings after a 38-31 win on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.

Although the Bears didn’t move in the rankings, the club hopped up a spot where it counts the most: the NFC North standings. Chicago now sits atop the division after Detroit’s 18-16 loss to Baltimore, meaning the Bears now control their own postseason destiny.

That development comes at a time when the Bears appear poised to play some of their best football.

Jay Cutler returned to lead an offense that was already rolling Sunday at Cleveland, and the defense is starting to show signs of life, in part because defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff is finally beginning to settle in along with rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, while defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is beginning to catch a groove as a playcaller.

In back-to-back outings, the Bears have put up more than 400 yards of offense, and the defense has shut down two of the game’s best receivers over the same span. (The defense should also be getting back veteran linebacker Lance Briggs in time for Sunday's matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.)

As we said last week, for a good portion of the season, the Lions have helped along the Bears by slipping in what appeared to be winnable games. That’s exactly what the Lions did Monday night in falling to the Ravens, while the Bears took care of business against the Browns. Chicago needs to keep up the momentum Sunday night at Philadelphia.

Elsewhere in the division, the Lions dropped five spots to No. 17, while the Packers -- now in second place in the NFC North -- moved up two spots to 16th. The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, jumped up four spots from No. 27 to 23rd.

The Bears received one 11th-place vote, two for 12th, one for 14th and two for 15th.

Chicago closes out back-to-back road games Sunday at Philadelphia before hosting the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field for the regular-season finale.
A weekly examination of the Lions' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 24 | Last Week: 12 | Power Ranking since 2002

Like the famous Tom Petty song, the Lions are now free ... free fallin’. Detroit has lost four of five games, each loss looking worse than the previous one. They lost leads in the fourth quarter in all of them, and along the way lost control of the NFC North and a potential playoff berth in the process.

The Lions fell five spots in the latest Power Rankings to 17th, and perhaps this is all that needs to be said about this franchise at this point. Since the Power Rankings started in 2002, this is still the second-highest ranking for Detroit at this point in the season, only bettered by 2011, when the Lions made the playoffs. This season’s struggles might be the most painful, though, because of the promise and potential Detroit showed at the beginning of the season. Now, unless the Lions get some major help, that season will end in two weeks.
A weekly examination of the Packers' Power Ranking.

Preseason: 5 | Last week: 18 | Power Ranking since 2002

Wins directed by quarterback Matt Flynn don't move the needle much with our voters, apparently. The Green Bay Packers' Week 15 victory over the Dallas Cowboys gained them only two spots. The previous week's win against the Atlanta Falcons moved them up only one.

That's understandable given that few people would view the Packers as a legitimate Super Bowl contender with Flynn at quarterback.

But what happens if Aaron Rodgers returns this week and the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers? I suspect the voters would think a little more highly of them.

Either way, despite what the rankings say, the Packers remain a playoff contender with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. Green Bay is only one-half game behind the first-place Chicago Bears in the NFC North standings but checked in three spots behind them in this poll. The Detroit Lions, whose Monday night loss to the Baltimore Ravens opened the door for either the Packers or Bears to win the division, slipped behind the Packers at No. 17.

As always, you can rank all 32 teams yourself.
A weekly examination of the Vikings' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 17 | Last Week: 27 | Power Ranking since 2002

The Minnesota Vikings scored their most impressive win of the year on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, defeating the NFC East leaders 48-30 despite playing without their top two running backs, top two tight ends and top three cornerbacks. And as a result, they've moved back to their highest point in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings since Week 3.

This week, the Vikings will try to get their first -- and only -- road win of the year as they head to Cincinnati for a tough matchup with the AFC North leading Bengals. The Vikings are 0-6-1 on the road this season, with their tie coming on Nov. 24 in Green Bay. If you'd like, you can give them credit for a road win on Sept. 29, when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, but the Vikings were technically the home team that day, and spent the week in England, getting used to the time change before the Steelers arrived on Friday. So if they want credit for a road victory in the annals of the 2013 NFL season, they'll have to get it this weekend.

The Vikings are the only team in the league without a road win this season, and if they're able to get one this weekend -- putting the Bengals in a must-win Week 17 game with the Baltimore Ravens in the process -- they could help coach Leslie Frazier in his late-season push to save his job. The Vikings are 3-2-1 in their past six games, and if they could finish the year winning five of their last eight after starting 1-7, Frazier might be able to make a case he should stay on as the Vikings' coach.