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11-23-2004, 03:52 PM
Week 12 NFL Power Rankings
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This is the week to give thanks.

We're thankful for Troy Brown's willingness to play cornerback in a pinch, for Jerome Bettis' 95 bruising carries the past three weeks, for Terrell Owens' variety of end zone dances, for Peyton Manning's weekly artistry, for the Falcons' pass rush, for Drew Brees' determination, for Reuben Droughns' emergence, for Brett Favre's comebacks, for stout defenses that win games (for Baltimore and Jacksonville) and for weak defenses that lose games (for Minnesota, St. Louis and Kansas City).

Most of all, we're thankful for another wide-open, who-the-heck-knows-who-will-win NFL season. We all eat that up. Now, pass the turkey.

ON THE RISE: Believe it or not, the Bills are 4-6. With RB Willis McGahee and a good defense, Buffalo leaped seven spots to a season-high No. 16 from No. 23. Two other struggling teams jumped six places this week: the Panthers from No. 29 to No. 23, and the Raiders from No. 30 to No. 24.

FALLING FAST: The Cardinals dropped five slots after losing big to Carolina (and benching Josh McCown) from No. 22 to No. 27. The Texans were the other big loser this week, falling four positions from No. 17 to No. 21 after blowing a lead against Brett Favre.

NOTE: Rankings are updated by Tuesday midday every week.

Rk Team Last Week Rising/Falling High/Low Comment
1. Patriots (9-1) 1st SAME 1st/2nd RB Corey Dillon balances the offense, and the Super Bowl champs are better than ever. The Steelers beat the Dillon-less Patriots in October. Until they do it in January or unless the Pats slip, New England remains No. 1.
2. Steelers (9-1) 2nd SAME 2nd/24th The Steelers showed some moxie with a second-half rally in hostile Cincinnati. RB Duce Staley likely will play this week, although Jerome Bettis did more than even he thought possible in Staley's absence.
3. Eagles (9-1) 3rd SAME 1st/3rd As soon as Jeremiah Trotter reclaimed the middle linebacker spot, the run defense improved significantly. The NFC championship game certainly will be in Philly, and that means QB Donovan McNabb finally gets to the Super Bowl.
4. Colts (7-3) 4th SAME 3rd/5th QB Peyton Manning put the team on his back weeks ago and is assaulting the NFL record books. The Colts run the ball as well as they pass it, meaning opponents have no chance at victory unless they score 35. Even the Colts' defense is starting to look a bit better. A bit.
5. Falcons (8-2) 5th SAME 5th/20th QB Michael Vick is not conventional but is highly effective. The Falcons' defense is better than the offense and really harasses opposing quarterbacks.
6. Chargers (7-3) 6th SAME 6th/32nd OK, so we were wrong about the Chargers. We ranked 'em last in our preseason Power Poll. We couldn't have been more wrong. All-Pro RB LaDainian Tomlinson has a passing attack to balance the offense, and the defense is tough. Drew Brees looks like a franchise quarterback. Who knew?
7. Broncos (7-3) 7th SAME 5th/14th QB Jake Plummer is having a career season and is on schedule to break John Elway's team record for TD passes in a season. And perhaps more important, the Broncos still run the ball better than any team. If in the NFC, Denver might be the team to beat.
8. Packers (6-4) 8th SAME 8th/23rd QB Brett Favre won't let the Packers go away quietly. The run defense is just good enough to keep the team in the game until the fourth quarter, when Favre takes command.
9. Ravens (7-3) 9th SAME 7th/12th The most glaring weakness had been QB Kyle Boller (notice the past tense?). Boller has played well the past two games, and now it is realistic to bank on him for 200 yards passing and a TD each week. That might be enough for the Ravens to win a playoff game or two.
10. Vikings (6-4) 11th

(+1) 3rd/13th The Vikings look as if they can win a game or two without WR Randy Moss. Backup WR Nate Burleson has stepped up, and the team has a stable of good RBs. Still, the defense is not good enough to beat elite teams.
11. Rams (5-5) 10th

(-1) 7th/22nd If the Rams would hand the ball 20 times to rookie RB Steven Jackson behind LT Orlando Pace, this team would dominate. It's no surprise St. Louis lost at Buffalo we all know coach Mike Martz is too stubborn to adjust his master plan.
12. Jaguars (6-4) 13th

(+1) 8th/22nd This team has survived the loss of QB Byron Leftwich and still is in the playoff hunt. The defense is one of the best, and Leftwich is close to his return. Look out, AFC.
13. Jets (7-3) 12th

(-1) 4th/18th There is lots of speculation about QB Chad Pennington's health. We believe he will return in a few weeks, and the Jets just need to play .500 ball in his absence. The Jets' defense which has yielded only four more points than Pittsburgh's is way underrated.
14. Seahawks (6-4) 14th SAME 3rd/17th This team is too inconsistent to take seriously. Backup QB Trent Dilfer provides a shot of enthusiasm, and RB Shaun Alexander has 627 yards rushing in the past four weeks.
15. Bucs (4-6) 18th

(+3) 15th/29th The Bucs are only 4-6 but deserve this spot. The team has won four of five by running the ball, sacking quarterbacks and getting sound decisions from the QB position (thanks, Brian Griese).
16. Bills (4-6) 23rd

(+7) 16th/30th This is another team with a 4-6 record that no team wants to play. The offensive line has figured out how to protect QB Drew Bledsoe, RB Willis McGahee gets better every week and the defense is really good.
17. Giants (5-5) 15th

(-2) 6th/27th Sure, QB Eli Manning showed long-range promise last week. However, the decision to start him sank this contending team's playoff chances. If Kurt Warner had the same performance Manning had last week (17-of-37, 162 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions), Giants fans would have had a fit.
18. Titans (4-6) 20th

(+2) 4th/23rd QB Steve McNair is back, and that spells trouble for most NFL teams. The Titans won a tough game against the Jaguars and should be a tough matchup the rest of the way.
19. Chiefs (3-7) 16th

(-3) 5th/22nd The Chiefs can move the ball and score points in bunches even when RB Priest Holmes is hurt. The defense never improved, though, and that killed the playoff chances. Last year's defense was ridiculed, but it gave up far fewer points and created twice as many turnovers.
20. Lions (4-6) 19th

(-1) 13th/28th There are mounting questions about QB Joey Harrington's ability to lead this franchise. He can't do it alone, but he is talented enough to win with a sound running game to support him.
21. Texans (4-6) 17th

(-4) 12th/30th WR Andre Johnson has gone five games without a TD, and that is a big reason for the 2-3 record over that span. The other issue is a flat running game.
22. Bengals (4-6) 21st

(-1) 13th/29th The Bengals' defense is playing better, and QB Carson Palmer is showing significant signs of growth. Coach Marvin Lewis' team has enough competitive spirit to get to 8-8.
23. Panthers (3-7) 29th

(+6) 2nd/31st This is a bad team that won't quit on coach John Fox. The teams below this ranking don't play hard consistently. Two wins in a row by throwing the ball 75 percent of the time is impressive for a team playing with most of its elite players injured.
24. Raiders (3-7) 30th

(+6) 17th/30th We are hearing rumors that coach Norv Turner's job is in trouble. The last thing Oakland needs is a fourth coach in four years. The defense is not in sync, and the offense doesn't take care of the ball.
25. Saints (4-6) 24th

(-1) 16th/29th The Saints are the NFL's classic underachievers. They beat Kansas City and then get crushed by Denver. QB Aaron Brooks puts up big numbers but always breaks your heart. The defense is nonexistent, and coach Jim Haslett certainly will be fired.
26. Redskins (3-7) 26th SAME 14th/26th Coach Joe Gibbs has been schooled thoroughly in 2004. The Redskins have a good defense but can't score enough. Six teams have doubled Washington's scoring output. Gibbs must hire a young, innovative offensive coordinator to complement his tough defense.
27. Cardinals (4-6) 22nd

(-5) 22nd/32nd What was coach Dennis Green thinking when he passed on QBs Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger in the draft? He said Josh McCown was his guy but switched QBs when McCown got the team to within one game of .500. That decision set the franchise back two years.
28. Bears (4-6) 25th

(-3) 24th/32nd There is effort every Sunday but little talent. Lovie Smith is a good candidate for coach of the year despite a 4-6 record. But he won't win the award, because Chicago might not win another game.
29. Browns (3-7) 28th

(-1) 19th/29th Not much has gone well for the Browns, and everybody will be fired as soon as the season is over.
30. Cowboys (3-7) 27th

(-3) 8th/30th The season is over, so it is time to play QB Drew Henson. Coach Bill Parcells is frustrated his hand-picked veterans didn't provide a good bridge to the future. The players have quit on him, so Dallas could win a game or two down the stretch.
31. Dolphins (1-9) 32nd

(+1) 17th/32nd It's hard to decide which team is worse, Miami or San Francisco. Sunday's matchup will decide which team gets the No. 1 pick in the '05 NFL Draft.
32. 49ers (1-9) 31st

(-1) 29th/32nd Owner John York dismantled this team for financial reasons. We feel sorry for coach Dennis Erickson, who was misled (or lied to) when he was recruited for this job. He would love to go back to college.