NFL Nation: 2013 NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

A weekly examination of the Steelers’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 16 | Last Week: 24 | Power Ranking since 2002

The Pittsburgh Steelers made their biggest jump of the season after overcoming a disastrous second quarter on Sunday and beating the Lions 37-27 at Heinz Field. The Steelers lacked a signature win before outlasting the Lions in Sunday's shootout. The victory gave the Steelers a two-game winning streak and leaves them just one game back in the race for the second AFC wild-card berth.

Here's how the panel voted Pittsburgh:

Ashley Fox: 18

Mike Sando: 15

Kevin Seifert: 20

John Clayton: 24

Dan Graziano: 23

Jamison Hensley: 19

The Steelers play at Cleveland in Week 12. They have owned the Browns, but they have also lost twice in Cleveland since 2009, including last year. Pittsburgh committed eight turnovers in a 20-14 loss, and that game isn’t the only example of why the Steelers shouldn't look past the Browns. They followed a two-game winning streak earlier this season with back-to-back clunkers at Oakland and at New England.

What has given the Steelers the most hope as they still dig out from an 0-4 start is how the offense is coming together. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is in command, and he has enough skill players around him for the Steelers to put up their share of points the rest of the way.

Power Rankings: No. 6 New England

November, 19, 2013
A weekly examination of the Patriots' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 6 | Last Week: 7 | Power Ranking since 2002

The Patriots drop just one spot after their 24-20 loss to the Panthers, the same team that leapfrogs New England in the rankings. Hard to argue with that.

Next up is the No. 1 Broncos.

The Patriots currently rank as the third AFC team behind Denver and Kansas City (No. 3), with Indianapolis (No. 7) and Cincinnati (No. 8) not far behind in the rearview mirror.

The Patriots are a solid No. 6, with each of their three losses close enough that they could have gone the other way. It sets up a scenario in which they should be in the championship hunt again, and the key, as always, is health and if they can catch fire at the right time.
A weekly examination of the Falcons' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 4 | Last Week: 29 | Power Ranking since 2002

Well, at least the Falcons didn’t drop to the bottom of the 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 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. 29 Houston Texans

November, 19, 2013
A weekly examination of the Texans' Power Rankings:

Preseason: 7 | Last week: 28 | Power Rankings since 2002

Losing to the No. 26-ranked Raiders dropped the Texans another spot in the Power Rankings, for what is again their lowest ranking to date. Houston checks in at No. 29 this week, ahead of only the Falcons, Vikings and this week's opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The lowest vote for the Texans came from Jamison Hensley, who ranked them 32nd. The highest came from Ashley Fox and Mike Sando, who ranked them 28th.

Three of the Texans' upcoming opponents rank in the top 10. The Denver Broncos rank first after beating the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, the New England Patriots rank sixth after losing to the Carolina Panthers on Monday and the Indianapolis Colts rank seventh after a comeback win over the Tennessee Titans.

On the other hand, Houston still has two games against Jacksonville and one against the No. 24 Titans.
A weekly examination of the Packers' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 5 | Last Week: 13 | Power Ranking since 2002

Three weeks ago, the Packers were 5-2, on top of the NFC North and at No. 8 in the Power Rankings. Then they lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone. What ensued was a three-game losing streak and a free fall in both the division and the Power Rankings.

One of the six voters on our panel thought so little of the Packers at this point that he placed them at No. 23 on his ballot. The other five voters had them between 14 and 16.

If there’s a glimmer of hope for the Packers, it’s that this Sunday they play host to the Minnesota Vikings, who are 2-8 and ranked No. 31. Oh yeah, and with each passing week they move closer to getting Rodgers back on the field.

As always, you can rank all 32 teams yourself.

Power Rankings: No. 5 Carolina Panthers

November, 19, 2013
A weekly examination of the Panthers’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 6 | 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'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.
A weekly examination of the 49ers' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 3 | Last Week: 8 | Power Ranking since 2002

The 49ers’ tumble this week wasn’t drastic, which was the right call. The 49ers have lost two straight games by a total of four points. They have gone from No. 5 to No. 9 in the Power Rankings.

Last week, after a 10-9 home loss to Carolina, I didn’t think the 49ers should have dropped three spots. But after their last-second loss at New Orleans this week, the voters dropped the 49ers only one position after a stellar defensive effort against Drew Brees.

That’s fair. The 49ers are the highest-ranked 6-4 team, which is probably the right call.
A weekly examination of the Chiefs' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 22 | Last Week: 1 | Power Ranking since 2002

We all knew the Kansas City Chiefs, after losing their first game of the season Sunday night in Denver, would drop from the top spot in this week's rankings. The issue was how far they would fall, and now we have our answer. The Chiefs are No. 3 this week behind the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

No argument from me that the Chiefs should be behind both of those clubs. But would a better spot for the Chiefs be No. 4, behind the 8-2 New Orleans Saints?

My take is the Chiefs are more deserving of the third spot than the Saints. New Orleans has a pair of wins against teams (San Francisco and Chicago) currently ranked in the top 10. By the current rankings, Kansas City's best victory is against the No. 12 Philadelphia Eagles.

But the Saints also have a bad loss to the No. 16 New York Jets. Kansas City's only loss is, of course, to the team currently ranked No. 1. There's no shame in losing to the Broncos, particularly in Denver.

Power Rankings: No. 25 Buffalo Bills

November, 19, 2013
A weekly examination of the Bills' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 30 | Last Week: 23 | Power Ranking since 2002

After knocking off the New York Jets (who were No. 12 at the time) in convincing fashion Sunday, the Buffalo Bills moved up only one spot in ESPN's weekly Power Rankings.

It's not ideal, but the reality is, the Bills are still 4-7, with the third-worst record in the AFC. If the season ended today, the Bills would pick seventh overall in the draft, so being ranked as the eighth-worst team in the NFL is fair.

Another thing to consider: The seven teams ahead of the Bills all have 4-6 records. That's a significant logjam, but one that should be broken soon. In this case, being on their bye week should help the Bills, as some of those 4-6 teams could fall to 4-7.

What's also going to help Buffalo is its upcoming schedule. It's a point we've hammered home in recent weeks: The Bills' next three games come against the No. 30 Falcons, No. 28 Buccaneers and No. 32 Jaguars.

If the Bills sweep those three games and improve to 7-7, they're going to be ranked a lot higher than No. 25.

Power Ranking: No. 7 Indianapolis Colts

November, 19, 2013
A weekly examination of the Colts’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 10 | Last week: 7 | Ranking since 2002

Indianapolis maintained its spot at No. 7 in this week’s rankings after coming from 11 points down at halftime to beat the Tennessee Titans last week.

Every week is even more important now with only six weeks remaining in the regular season. The top five spots in the AFC are starting to shape up. Now it’s a matter of where the Colts will finish in the conference.

I’m giving Denver the edge to be the No. 1 seed. Don’t fret over New England's being ranked a spot higher than the Colts in this week’s Power Rankings. The Patriots’ loss to Carolina on Monday night helped the Colts jump up to the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

The Colts have three games remaining against teams with winning records. All three games are on the road, starting this weekend at Arizona. The other two games are against Cincinnati and Kansas City. The Colts' final three home games are against division opponents Tennessee, Houston and Jacksonville.
A weekly examination of the Browns’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 28 | Last Week: 19 | Power Ranking since 2002

The elevator went down in a hurry this week, as with one thud of a loss came one thud of a drop in the Power Rankings for the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns had flirted with breaking into the top half of rankings after beating Baltimore, but one quarter, during which they gave up 31 points to the Bengals, erased any potential of that happening soon.

The Browns do get to play at home this weekend against the Steelers, then have Jacksonville at home the following week.

Which of course starts all the “gosh golly gee whiz” talk about how if the Browns (4-6) can beat Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, they’ll be back at .500 and in it again.

Technically, that is correct. Practically, it seems a long way away.

In reality, 23rd sounds about right for a team that went from one that seemed ready to play in a "big game" to one that actually has lost four of five.

Power Rankings: No. 27 Washington

November, 19, 2013
A weekly examination of the Redskins' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 10 | Last Week: 23 | Power Ranking since 2002

The Washington Redskins continue to fall: in the standings, in their fans' eyes, in just about everything these days. And yes, they’re falling in the Power Rankings.

All of the above happens when you’re 3-7 in a season that began with high expectations. Yes, everyone knew about the salary cap issues and the fact Robert Griffin III had missed the entire offseason because of his knee and, therefore, a lot of time to develop as a passer.

That doesn’t change the fact that the organization held those same high expectations knowing the above facts. They weren’t alone, of course, as many picked them to finish first in the NFC East (including myself). Now look where they are: in last place and trailing (by one game) a team that began the season 0-6.

Washington now ranks 27th in the NFL, ahead of only Tampa Bay, Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota and Jacksonville. But to show you how weird the NFL can be: Four of those bottom six teams made the playoffs in 2012. Currently, three of the top five teams in the rankings failed to make the playoffs last season. In other words, one year does not mean much for the next, and it’s why the Redskins will embark on a serious spending spree in the offseason knowing that just because they’ll post a bad record (barring a miracle of course) in 2013, they can rebound in 2014. Agree or not, that will be the thinking, and the proof exists every year that some teams will take dramatic turns. The Redskins have taken one in each of the past two seasons. At some point a level of consistency would be appreciated by their fans, I'm sure.

Oh, and another thing: The Redskins have played seven games against teams currently in the top 15. They’re 1-6. They have three games remaining against teams in the top 14 (No. 3 Kansas City, No. 9 San Francisco and No. 14 Dallas -- all at home). They also have three games against teams ranked low (No. 22 New York, twice; No. 30 Atlanta). Right now, it’s hard to like the Redskins against many teams.
A weekly examination of the Bengals' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 9 | Last Week: 10 | Power Ranking since 2002

After improving to 5-0 at home with Sunday's 41-20 win over the Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals climbed two spots in the latest Power Rankings released Tuesday. The jump from 10th to eighth comes one week after they dropped two spots following a second straight overtime loss. On the heels of a four-game midseason winning streak, the Bengals dropped two in a row before Sunday's important division victory.

The Bengals' jump was partly a product of their 19-point win. Given style points for the dominating victory, they rose after scoring more than 30 points for the third time in a game at Paul Brown Stadium this season. Losses by the Patriots, 49ers and Lions also probably helped them gain an extra spot. Two of those teams, the Patriots and Lions, have lost to Cincinnati this season. Half of the six-person Power Rankings panel of voters had the Bengals ranked ninth. The other half had them ranked eighth.

Cincinnati shouldn't expect much movement in next week's rankings as it heads into its bye this weekend. A win the next week at San Diego, though, could push them up another spot or two in the Week 14 Power Rankings.

Power Rankings: No. 14 Dallas Cowboys

November, 19, 2013
A weekly examination of the Cowboys’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 20 | Last week: 15 | Power Ranking since 2002

The Dallas Cowboys, who didn't play last week, moved up a spot in the Power Ranking. That was about the only good thing from the bye, because they are no longer in first place in the NFC East.

Mike Sando gave the Cowboys the highest grade at No. 13. John Clayton docked the Cowboys two spots to No. 14. Kevin Seifert had the lowest ranking at No. 16. The Cowboys are the ninth-rated team in the NFC, which is more of a sign why they must win the division to make the playoffs.

Sunday’s opponent, the New York Giants, check in at No. 22 even in the middle of a four-game winning streak. It seems as if history cannot override weak competition in the eyes of the voters for the Giants.

Jason Garrett would never use the term -- and most players would publicly avoid it as well -- but this is a must-win for the Cowboys. Technically they would remain in the NFC East race with a loss because of the sad state of the division, but realistically they would need to overcome mounting evidence that the season is spiraling downward. A loss would be the Cowboys' third in four games. A win would move the Cowboys to 4-0 in the division and all but eliminate the Giants.

The Oakland Raiders visit AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving, giving the Cowboys a chance to reclaim the NFC East lead before the Eagles would play their next game.
A weekly examination of the Raiders' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 29 | Last Week: 27 | Power Ranking since 2002

No Terrelle Pryor? No Darren McFadden? No problem. While the “breakout” performance of former Penn State walk-on and Oakland Raiders “camp arm” fourth-string quarterback Matt McGloin garnered the headlines this week, running back Rashad Jennings' bull-style running attack was just as important in the Raiders’ victory at Houston. The win not only ended Oakland’s eight-game road losing streak but also moved the Raiders up one spot in our Power Rankings.

In fact, even at 4-6, the Raiders are now just one game out of the playoff race with six to play, including a winnable home game coming up against the Tennessee Titans. It will be the Raiders’ lone home game in a five-week stretch.

Of course, we’ve seen the Raiders on the cusp of taking another step forward in the past, only to stumble and fall -- spectacularly. Or have you forgotten Oakland’s embarrassing showing in its most recent home game, the 49-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Of course, that was with Pryor under center and McFadden starting at running back. What does it all mean? Stay tuned.

The health of Pryor and McFadden factor in, of course, as to why Dennis Allen won’t commit yet to McGloin and Jennings -- yet.