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NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Cards jump Bengals; Eagles sink

The day of the backup quarterback ...

Week 12 Power Rankings were as heavily influenced as ever by men who usually wear OxiClean jerseys while holding clipboards and maybe even Trapper Keepers. No less than five reserves reserved their right to air it out for their teams Sunday, with the results muddying up the ranks. And that's not counting Shaun Hill having to come in for a series in Minnesota or Dallas starting a new/old quarterback in Tony Romo. The latter came out victorious, as did three of the backups: the Broncos' Brock Osweiler, the Colts' Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Yates down in Houston ...

Darn skippy, Adam. And Yates was good for a 0.5-spot rise.

As for the rest of the teams and their normal dudes under center, see below. Feel free to let me know what looks right, and what looks like the Jags' unis -- er, not right. @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Nov. 17 Power Rankings.

PREVIOUS RANKINGS: Week 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Preseason

Already getting lobbied to place the Panthers over the Patriots. The reason? Carolina's blowout win over the Redskins coupled with New England's close call versus the Bills. What's ironic about this argument is that Bill Belichick's group won in the same fashion Monday night that Carolina has employed much of this year. Think about the Panthers' one-score wins: over the Texans, Saints, Seahawks, Colts and Packers. Sure, there are fine football teams in that group, but it's not as though the Panthers have sprinted through their schedule. Oh, and by the way, the Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champs.

Side note: Danny Amendola's injury is a rather large concern.

So much for needing Kelvin Benjamin ... Cam Newton, who threw a career-high five touchdown passes Sunday, is at least co-MVP with Tom Brady among writers, analysts and, most importantly, the concerned mothers of Nashville. On that note, kudos to the one who wrote into The Charlotte Observer about Newton's post-TD antics last week, and even more kudos to Newton for responding to something he technically didn't have to. Often, Newton has been subjected to different standards than other QBs around the league. Now people are recognizing No. 1 as much for his leadership as his rare talent.

Another steady step up the rankings for the Cardinals, who are now sturdily in the three-hole. What makes for a solid hitter in the three-hole?#.233) Someone who has a balanced approach -- someone who can hit for power and take a few pitches, and who is generally better at hitting to all fields than the cleanup man. Tell me that doesn't describe Arizona under Bruce Arians. The Cards can run the football with two quality RBs, and Carson Palmer distributes the ball while being able to connect deep when appropriate. Would love to see the Cardinals win their first Super Bowl this season. But let's not put the victory beret before the headset. #Arians

Don't let this loss consume you, Bengals fans. Arizona has become a much more difficult place to play than it was even in the Kurt Warner era. Given that the game was decided by about five or six plays, don't go squeezing your wubby like Kenny in "Mr. Mom" over Cincinnati's two-game losing streak. Here are some more reasons to stay calm:

 **a)** Going UN-defeated is OVER-rated. 
 The loss to the Cardinals was by three points, with the 
 Bengals' secondary decimated. Various reports indicate that a senior drive-thru manager at Dairy Queen got a phone call about whether he could play free safety. 
 **c)** This football team is not going anywhere. The 
 Bengals will finish with at least a 12-4 record, win the AFC North and probably nab a playoff bye, too. 

Nice jump for a team that now has at least a fully operational QB at the reins -- the lack of which was the impetus for last week's plummet. Thought Brock Osweiler handled himself extremely well before, during and after the win in Chicago. The Broncos might not have lit up the Bears offensively, but the contest never appeared too heady for Osweiler, who was, all things considered, relaxed. Having that Denver defense behind you sure helps. Just wait until No. 94 gets healthy again.

Huge, huge win for the Packers, who rode their franchise quarterback and pot-bellied tailback to a pot of gold outdoors in Minnesota. I do not mean to deride Eddie Lacy, who, though he is clearly running with an extra load out there, also brought that load with him on several runs Sunday. Green Bay needed the balance against the NFC's top scoring defense, on a day when Aaron Rodgers completed less than half his passes (16 of 34 for 212 yards). Still, some of the throws Rodgers did complete were clutch, on-the-move darts that his team had to have.

Week 11 brought a much-needed bye, at least for Ben Roethlisberger. A note about these late bye weeks: They provide teams like the Steelers -- in the heart of the playoff race -- with 13 days to put 10 games of bumps, bruises and playing through pain behind them. Last year, Pittsburgh's bye came in Week 12. Just so you know, Mike Tomlin's group went 4-1 down the stretch to win the AFC North.

It's OK to still be excited about this team. These aren't the same old Vikings. This is only Mike Zimmer's second season in Minnesota; ditto Teddy Bridgewater. For almost all of last year, neither coach nor QB enjoyed Adrian Peterson's services (or his fumbles). With the weather getting colder, clubs like the Vikings -- those that can run the football and play stingy defense -- are more viable. That rule is as applicable today as it was in 1961, when this franchise came into existence. So let's tap the brakes before granting the NFC North to the Packers or losing confidence in the Vikes.

Week 11 was an off week for the Giants, who are in first place in the sad-sack NFC East, for now. The key to New York being there (and staying there): the contributions of many bit parts, like the oft-forgotten Rueben Randle, Orleans Darkwa, Uani 'Unga, Damontre Moore and someone of the slightly bigger name variety, Shane Vereen. Next up: a big one, at Washington, which brings a chance to create space in the division.

The Seahawks won a game that, frankly, most people expected them to -- though not necessarily behind two bills from Thomas Rawls. What a day for the undrafted kid out of Central Michigan, who ran 30 times for 209 yards, setting a single-game franchise rookie record, surpassing the 207 put up by the great Curt Warner in a 1983 contest. Seattle, which joined the NFC in 2002, was a member of the AFC then, with Warner's prowess helping the 'Hawks to what would prove to be their one and only appearance in the AFC title game. Tune in next week for more "Seahawks History Hour" ... Maybe we'll talk some Chris Warren.

Not sure Rex Ryan has ever been hotter than he was after the Bills gave up that touchdown at the end of the first half. I like Ryan getting fired up -- like the silver scruff, too. What's not to like is the state of Tyrod Taylor, who looked largely inaccurate even before suffering an injury Monday night. So, Bills Mafia, I turn to you: Can EJ Manuel do enough to push Buffalo to a wild card if called upon? (@HarrisonNFL) This weekend in Kansas City presents both a stiff challenge and a strong opportunity to bust a postseason move.

Jameis Winston posted five touchdown passes Sunday (a Bucs rookie record) despite completing less than 20 total attempts -- quite the statistical feat, representing real bang for your buck. Scoring over 20 fantasy points without scoring a touchdown is even harder to do, but Doug Martin accomplished just that, thanks to his 235 rushing yards. How about converting 11 third and fourth downs while racking up 521 total yards on the road with a rookie quarterback? Rare indeed.

If you started Spencer Ware in fantasy Sunday, you ARE that guy in the FanDuel-changed-my-life commercials. Ware is far from the only offensive player who's stepped up in the Chiefs' four-game win streak. Not that it matters when the defense goes out and plays like the 2000 Ravens. Or is it the 1985 Bears? Thirty-nine points yielded over the past 16 quarters of football = elite D in 2015 ... or any other year, for that matter. One more note for the road: Anyone remember this article? Told ya.

Who ever would have thought NFL analysts would one day debate whether the Texans should start Brian Hoyer or T.J. Yates to keep their winning ways going? Yet, that's precisely where Bill O'Brien's team sits right now. He made the correct choice, clearly, to start Hoyer over Ryan Mallett, who has yet to catch on anywhere since getting bounced in Houston. Was he right go back to Hoyer for Week 12, as he confirmed Monday he would? Who cares? Though their signal callers would be considered backups by 30 other NFL teams, the Texans are right there with Indy atop the AFC South -- and improved quarterback play is a large part of the reason.

The up-and-down story in New York continues (for both teams), as the Jets had no answer for T.J. Yates and the Texans. I can't believe I just typed that last line. Perhaps most disturbing from Sunday's game was the fact that both Jets corners were burned for big plays. Darrelle Revis has been better than most CBs, but he's also far from the shutdown player he was in years past. Shoot, even Cecil Shorts was hurling touchdown passes out there. Fresh off thumb surgery, Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn't compensate for the defensive breakdowns, leaving him unable to exact revenge on one of his 317 former teams.

Matt Hasselbeck and Adam Vinatieri are old enough to have made mixtapes for their girlfriends in high school and probably owned GoBots (Transformers for us poor kids) -- and they're apparently still quality enough, in their 40s, to beat the Falcons on the road. Even D'Qwell Jackson (32), who produced the most important interception of Week 11, is long in the tooth. The old farts stay even with the Texans in the suddenly exciting AFC South.

Freefall for Atlanta, and it's deserved. These Power Rankings held fast with Dan Quinn's group despite a couple of close losses. Unfortunately, the Falcons let the NFL's AARP band come into their place and knock them right down, keeping them from gaining ground in the chase for a wild-card spot. At some point, people are going to realize Matt Ryan cannot carry this team. Quarterback play has become as much a part of the issue as the defense. When's the last time you could say that about Atlanta? The halcyon days of Joey Harrington?

Another disappointing day for the Raiders, whose playoff hopes took another dive, this time below sea level. At 4-6, Oakland will have an uphill battle, with the Chiefs streaking in the opposite direction and the Broncos likely unreachable in the AFC West at 8-2. The culprit in Detroit was an anemic passing attack, which contributed untimely drops. Next up: a must-win at Tennessee against a rookie QB. Must win, baby.

Who hoped for a different play call on the failed two-point conversion late in Sunday's loss? Speaking directly to Bears fans, who of course are pumped up about Jeremy Langford's play in Year 1. But wasn't that a low-percentage call versus a stout Broncos defense? Langford had been held to just 25 yards on 13 carries by that ferocious front seven, so running up the gut out of the shotgun seemed ... curious. What would you have liked to see there? (@HarrisonNFL) I say roll Jay Cutler out on a run-pass option.

Tony Romo, the Tom Berenger of the NFL -- sans the half-mullet and Jobu helping out his teammates. No voodoo needed in Miami, as the franchise QB led the Cowboys back into NFC East relevance with the win in Miami. No, Romo wasn't perfect, as evidenced by his two picks, but he didn't get much help in pass pro; Olivier Vernon routinely beat the Dallas offensive line. The unit compensated in the run game, though -- firing out for a steady, plodding ground attack that ran the clock out on the Dolphins.

Yet another 4-6 team trying to get in position for a wild-card stretch run. The problem for this particular 4-6 team? No offense, Fin fans, but your team has no offense. Miami went 1-for-10 on third down and gained just 210 yards in total. Ryan Tannehill's pick-six to Rolando McClain wasn't helpful. Sunday's game at the New Meadowlands carries weighty wild-card implications.

Cam Newton just threw a touchdown pass to Derek Anderson as I was typing this sentence. But let's not relive the Redskins' drubbing in Carolina. Look at the bright side, 'Skins faithful: At 4-6 ... your team's right in the thick of the division race! If only the Redskins could cover as well as the media has covered the crappiness of the NFC East ...

If there is something, anything, to be made of a season of cold, hot, then cold streaks by the Saints, now is the time. They'll have to do it in Houston, which isn't the worst news. With Dennis Allen stepping in as defensive coordinator, facing the offensively challenged Texans is helpful. Allen was last a DC in Denver, back when the Broncos rode the defense as much as they did Tebowmania to the playoffs.

Mark Sanchez giveth ... and Mark Sanchez giveth away. And when Philly's backup quarterback wasn't throwing the ball right to Buccaneers like they were the intended targets, Eagles defensive backs made sure not to cover any of Jameis Winston's targets. How do you let a rookie quarterback throw five touchdown passes at your house, especially when you're spending over $10 million per year on a CB? Philadelphia: where free-agent corners' skills go to die.

So I guess Andre Branch is Gargamel. In the fierce Thursday night contest of baby poop vs. the Smurfs, the Jaguars' defense made the plays when it absolutely had to have them, with a forced fumble late, as well as Branch's clutch sack on the final play. Interesting that, for the second year in a row, Jacksonville beat the Titans at home with a sack on the final play. How about that AFC South race?

Sure looked like Case Keenum was woozy on that final Rams drive Sunday. His head appeared to hit the turf, and next thing you know, Nick Foles was warming up on the sideline. Yet, Keenum remained in the game. Not surprisingly, the NFL is investigating this disconcerting episode. Jeff Fisher chose to stick with his new starter, who narrowly missed on a throw to Wes Welker before getting strip-sacked -- a turnover that allowed the Ravens to eventually kick the game-winning field goal.

Tuesday morning quarterbacking aside, St. Louis is now in the 4-6 morass with seemingly everyone else in the NFL.

Don't be getting Martha Firestone Ford fired up. Ever since she addressed the media regarding the state of the team, the Lions have taken down not one but two decent teams in a two-week stretch. While the playoffs are out of reach, why can't hope at least be within grasp of this organization? It starts on defense, an area that was putrid on the pitch in London but has risen to the occasion as of late. We're holding out hope for Matt Stafford to parallel that development.

The Blaine Gabbert Express slowed to a halt in the Great Northwest on Sunday, but make no mistake: This is Gabbert's team -- and second chance -- the rest of the way. And it might be his chance to lay claim to the 49ers' starting QB gig going forward. (News flash to those who zone out on Saturdays: The Niners surprisingly placed Colin Kaepernick on injured reserve.) Gabbert was mostly solid in Seattle. The run defense was, uh, mushy. Michael Carter, Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield could have played better than the 49ers' front did Sunday. I mean, like, right now, as middle-aged men.

As disappointing as this season has been, Baltimore has been nothing but competitive. Seriously, look at the schedule: nothing but one-score results. Unfortunately, seven of those results have been losses. Fortunately, the latest result was a win, with the Ravens successfully traversing the end-game scenario that has cursed the team time and again this season. Unfortunately, Joe Flacco's now done for the season. Oof. If the injury situation gets any worse for this roster, Ozzie Newsome will be getting on the horn with Vinny Testaverde, Duane Starks and Jim Leonhard to fill the depth chart.

Although the defeat to the Jaguars was disappointing, perhaps losing wasn't the worst thing in the world. No one wants to play for next year, but what would Tennessee do in the postseason if it were to win the AFC South at 7-9? Amazing that one loss can push a football team out of the division race and into the race for the No. 1 overall pick. And based on how Marcus Mariota played Thursday night, this organization has much to look forward to.

No matter what, at least we'll always have this ...

Cleveland flies up the rankings (... which, of course, means they were on a bye). The big news of the off week in Cleveland was the ascension of Johnny Manziel into the starter's seat at quarterback. Well, perhaps "ascension" is a bit strong, given Mike Pettine's lackluster desire to go with Johnny Football in the first place.

 ***(UPDATE:** Pettine said Tuesday that Josh McCown will start against the Ravens on Monday, with Manziel serving as the third quarterback. Pettine had said earlier that he was considering benching Manziel after images surfaced that appeared to show Manziel holding a champagne bottle at a club in Austin, Texas.)* 

While all that goes on, many fans have failed to notice the brilliant play of Gary Barnidge -- his seven touchdowns trail only Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert among tight ends.

Speculation about head coach Mike McCoy has begun to seep into any and all conversations regarding the state of the Chargers. Not sure many people outside San Diego realize how decimated this team has been by injuries. Most relevant is whether the healthy guys on the field play for their coach with no postseason at the end of the tunnel. Don't be shocked if the Bolts dull the gold on those Jaguars this Sunday. Getting within 15 yards of a running back catching the ball out of the backfield would be a nice start.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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