NFC South: 2013 NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

A weekly examination of the Falcons' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 4 | Last Week: 29 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Well, at least the Falcons didn’t drop to the bottom of the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

They did, however, fall one spot to No. 30 after dropping to 2-8 following a 41-28 loss to Tampa Bay. The only teams below the Falcons right now are the Minnesota Vikings (2-8) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9).

The Falcons haven’t exactly thrown in the towel, but they’ve started to make significant lineup changes such as benching right guard Garrett Reynolds, moving center Peter Konz to right guard, then benching Konz in favor of Reynolds -- all in the same game.

It’s been that kind of season.

It’s not in coach Mike Smith’s character to surrender completely, but the Falcons no doubt have visions of a top-5 draft pick in the back of their minds. They could sorely use some help along the offensive and defensive lines. But Jadeveon Clowney might not be the answer, no matter how much hype surrounds the South Carolina defensive lineman.

With six games remaining in the season, the Falcons will be hard-pressed to finish above .500. They have games remaining against three teams ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN.com Power Rankings: the Saints (No. 4), Panthers (No. 5) and 49ers (No. 9).

The Falcons haven't had a losing season since Smith took over in 2008. Now they're on a four-game losing streak.

Power Rankings: No. 5 Carolina Panthers

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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A weekly examination of the Panthers’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 6 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints are on a collision path for a huge matchup on Dec. 8 at the Superdome.

The Panthers (7-3) climbed a spot to fifth in ESPN.com's Power Rankings with Monday night's 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots. The Saints (8-2) are ranked fourth after Sunday's victory over San Francisco.

If both win their next two games, the showdown in New Orleans would be for the NFC South lead. It still could be even if the Saints lose a game between now and then.

The Panthers on paper have the easier path to stay on their winning streak that has now reached six straight. They have a road game at Miami (5-5) on Sunday and a home game against Tampa Bay (2-8) the following week.

New Orleans has road games against Atlanta (2-8) this weekend and Seattle (10-1), arguably the best team in the NFC, the next.

If both teams continue to win, their Week 14 matchup is a prime candidate to be moved from 1 p.m. ET to NBC's prime-time Sunday night game as a part of the NFL's flex scheduling.

The current prime-time game is Atlanta at Green Bay. Seattle at San Francisco also would be a candidate, but Fox likely will protect that one for its 4:25 p.m. ET slot. Indianapolis at Cincinnati also is a possibility.

Either way, Carolina at New Orleans is shaping up to be big.

Power Rankings: No. 28 Buccaneers

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
2:00
PM ET
A weekly examination of the Buccaneers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 19 | Last week: 31 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The latest ESPN.com Power Rankings are out and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally are getting some respect. That’s mostly because the Bucs finally have done something to earn respect.

They’ve won two consecutive games after starting the season 0-8. That’s created some cushion between the Bucs and the Jaguars, who have been holding down the No. 32 spot.

The Bucs have moved up to 28th after winning Sunday against Atlanta. In addition to the Jaguars, the Bucs now are ranked ahead of the Vikings, Falcons and Texans.

I think this ranking is pretty accurate. But I also think, given the way the Bucs have played lately, there’s not a lot of difference between them and the Redskins, Raiders and Bills -- the three teams ranked directly in front of Tampa Bay.

If the Bucs can win Sunday at Detroit, they’ll have a good chance to jump into the middle 20s.
A weekly examination of the New Orleans Saints’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 14 | Last Week: 4 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The New Orleans Saints (8-2) already made their big move last week. So they stayed put at No. 4 after an impressive 23-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Two of the six voters on ESPN.com’s panel had the Saints at No. 3 ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs, but it’s tough to compare those teams right now. And unnecessary.

What matters most to the Saints is how they measure up against the other top teams in the NFC -- and they’ll get a chance to find out over the next month. They already survived a tough battle with the 49ers. In two weeks, they’ll play a road game at the No. 2 Seattle Seahawks. Then in Weeks 14 and 16, they’ll play home and away against the No. 5 Carolina Panthers.

I think the Saints’ patient and resilient effort against the 49ers, in which they had to come back from a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter, bodes well for their ability to handle such a rugged stretch.

But first things first: They need to take care of business Thursday night in a quick turnaround game at the Atlanta Falcons (2-8). The Falcons have had a dreadful year, but the Saints won’t take them lightly -- both because of their history and because they know every game counts in this tight NFC race.

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