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NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Steelers, Vikings up; Rams slip

It's Thanksgiving Week in pro football, which means everybody's playing for the first time in weeks.

No byes.

Everyone in the NFL is 10 games deep into the schedule, with 26 teams legitimately in the playoff race. I'm not talking just mathematically able, either; these teams realistically own a chance to reach the postseason. Other than the Eagles, who are ranked No. 1 for the fifth straight week, no team is running away with its division. The Patriots and Steelers own three-game leads in the AFC East and North, respectively, but New England has two games left against second-place Buffalo, while Pittsburgh will see Baltimore, which has an easy schedule going forward, in Week 14. Thus, this Turkey Day week, we'll see teams either separating from the pack or closing gaps across the league.

Thanksgiving week also means I can give thanks for your always interesting tweets ...

Much pressure to move the Vikes up. I did, but not this high.

This was amazing. Football related? Yeah, it was the Georgia Dome. Bobby Hebert once played there. Brian Finneran, too.

Bobby Layne and Barry Sanders disagree. So does Wayne Fontes.

Matthew Stafford deserves much credit. His Lions host the Vikings in a fascinating matchup this week. Both are in the top 10 below. As for the rest of the league, there were a few tough calls. What do you think, anyway? Let me know ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for the "NFL Power Rankings" show. Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts at the bottom of this page or tweet @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Week 11 Power Rankings.

There can be absolutely no debate as to who the top team in the league is after the Eagles trounced the Cowboys. Somewhere, Ron Jaworski, Wilbert Montgomery, Harold Carmichael, Mike Quick, Clyde Simmons and Wes Hopkins must've been smiling. Despite a slow start Sunday night, Carson Wentz showed not only that he is the top quarterback in a rich 2016 rookie class, but also that he is still the frontrunner for the MVP award. So what's next? See if all three running backs can get 100 yards in one game? Actually, the immediate task is for the Eagles to not let this win go to their collective heads. They've got the pesky Bears in Week 12, then road trips to visit the Seahawks and Rams. Whoa.

The Patriots keep rolling, and it doesn't look they're bound to slow down any time soon. Tom Brady was damn near perfect in the first half against the Raiders. Then you look at the stats and see he was even more perfect in the second. The recurring theme of these Power Rankings: The complete turnaround of the New England defense is startling. Over the last six games, all Brady has had to do is average two touchdowns per contest to give the Pats the per-game scoring advantage. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's unit made the most damaging play of the day in Mexico, when the outcome was still somewhat doubt: forcing Raiders receiver Seth Roberts to fumble 3 yards from the end zone in a 14-zip game. New England is the clear No. 2.

Those guys running around in black and yellow tights the other night sure looked familiar. You know, they were scoring and making plays as if they were Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh topped 30 points for the first time this season on the strength of its stars, with no small assist from a once-trounced-upon secondary, at least, by the critics, anyway. That group sure looks deep. Impressive win.

I almost put the Vikings in the top three. If NFL.com allowed me to, I would have had Pittsburgh at 3a and Minnesota at 3b. These two teams are so even in terms of all-around roster, the presence of ascending defenses, how they disposed of potential playoff teams this weekend, and so on. The tiebreaker here was their head-to-head matchup earlier this season (which Pittsburgh won and otherwise means little to nothing at this point). Point is, the Vikings deserve to be at least this high after the way they performed Sunday. Case Keenum, please don't scare us like this again.

Saints go down a notch, even after a win. If you need an explanation, look no further than Sean Payton's postgame news conference; the longtime head coach didn't act like a guy overly impressed with his team's play. That said, for New Orleans to come back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit and escape with a 34-31 overtime victory shows precisely why this is a legit Super Bowl contender. On a day the defense suffered through pivotal injuries, the offense was able to put up 34. While we're here, why isn't Alvin Kamara being touted as the top rookie in football? Chalk up another 116 scrimmage yards and a touchdown for the Saints freshman running back.

Tough loss in Minnesota, but this is certainly not the time to write these guys off. The drop here is more a result of all the teams behind the Rams last week -- including the Vikings -- getting quality wins. Caught Sean McVay's postgame news conference on SiriusXM Radio on Sunday afternoon. It's so obvious why this head coach has his team's ear. McVay showed energy, confidence and an upbeat attitude, even after being pressed about Cooper Kupp's fumble. Oddly, Kupp has been the central figure in the losses to the top opponents on the Rams' schedule thus far. The drop versus the Seahawks cost L.A. a win in Week 5 against the division bully. But that would've been a high-degree-of-difficulty grab, and, like his turnover Sunday, shouldn't obscure his fine rookie season. Knowing there is a lot of time left in 2017, I think the Rams are at least a wild-card team.

It wasn't perfect. It was another win for this group, though. You start looking ahead and you realize the Jaguars are playoff-bound. Putting aside the sterling 7-3 start, Jacksonville will see one of the league's easier slates down the stretch: at Cardinals, vs. Colts, vs. Seahawks, vs. Texans, at 49ers, at Titans. That looks like an 11-5 finish to me. You? (@HarrisonNFL) By the way, if you're not a Jags fan, you might not know that hit group hasn't played meaningful January football in 10 years. That was back when Fred Taylor and @MJD were the best tandem in football. It was so long ago that the latter sits in a freezer (studio) with me every Tuesday talking about these very rankings. Speaking of which, come 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday on NFL Network, you can bet he's gonna argue this team should be higher.

The Panthers were off this week, with the same benefit all teams with a late bye receive: a chance to get healthy for the stretch run. Is that an advantage? That depends on when significant injuries take place, obviously, but in Carolina's case, it means the return of tight end Greg Olsen, who has been on injured reserve since breaking his foot in Week 2. To make the most of his off time, Olsen pinch-hit as FOX's color guy for the Rams- Vikings game. Minnesota brass was concerned Olsen would try to get inside information and wanted Olsen taken off. Request denied. Just my thought: Teams worry far too much about spying and schemes. The sign of a great outfit is when the opponent knows what's coming and can't stop it. The only way Olsen would get that insider info is if a Vikings player shared it, which would be that player's own fault, anyway. Kinda dumb.

Another win for the Falcons, who have strung together three wins in four games. What if Julio Jones catches that ball in Carolina? The Monday nighter in Seattle might not have been a signature performance, as the Seahawks did everything they could to lose the game. That said, Atlanta took advantage of opportunities when it mattered, bolstered by a few excellent calls by OC Steve Sarkisian. Matt Ryan has really picked his game up over this winning stretch, posting a rating of 100 or higher in each of the three victories. Then there is Adrian Clayborn, who is dunking on quarterbacks enough to make Dominique Wilkins' legs tired. All of it adds up to the Falcons landing at No. 9.

Said it on Sunday in the Twittersphere and will it say it here officially: Why, oh why, does Matthew Stafford not even get mentioned in the MVP race, like, you know, ever? Last season, he merely pulled almost every Lions win out of the belly of the fourth quarter. This year, he's exhibited complete mastery of the position, even if the numbers don't always support it (like in the Monday-nighter against the Giants). That was a solid Bears defense Stafford shredded Sunday. Perhaps he wasn't slinging it around as impressively in the second half, but remember, this is a quarterback who has zero threat of a running game to work with. Opponents consistently play six in the box against this group. Stafford is currently sporting a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio over the past three weeks with no, uh, threat of a ground attack. Oh yeah, said that already. Well, it was worth repeating.

The Seahawks take a small dip, with the loss to Atlanta unearthing a few truths about this football team. The defense is a shell of itself without Richard Sherman (out for the season with a ruptured Achilles) and Kam Chancellor (expected to miss the rest of the season with a neck injury). Seattle doesn't have the same amount of talent as three years ago, at least not enough to mitigate the myriad self-inflicted mistakes the Seahawks produced Monday night. Russell Wilson is doing far too much by himself. The offensive line still is, in a word (or three), Seattle's offensive line. Perhaps more relevant is the schedule. After traveling to the Big Levi on Sunday, the Seahawks play the Eagles, Jags, Rams and Cowboys -- with Zeke. Oy.

Sunday's loss in New York is surely one Alex Smith would like to have back. The veteran quarterback put in a gritty if ineffective performance. On a day he struggled with the wind, Smith ran from pressure and gave up his body on multiple first-down runs. He wasn't able to connect with wide receivers down the field, causing a few drives -- including the first drive of overtime -- to hit a wall. The larger concern: Everyone in the Kansas City secondary is getting beaten, meaning everyone underestimated the loss of safety Eric Berry to a season-ending ruptured Achilles in the Chiefs' ousting of the Patriots on Kickoff Night. We all whiffed on that deal.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the overhead cam -- otherwise known as the "Madden Cam" -- Thursday night, save for Titans fans and Marcus Mariota's family. The different view gave us all unique insight as to what the quarterback was seeing out on the field, which included getting a better vantage point of Mariota's interceptions. Been watching Mariota closely since he came to the league, and I've never seen him display worse judgement or accuracy than on those first two picks. Of course, what the camera didn't show you is how quickly Mariota closed on Coty Sensabaugh after the latter intercepted him. That would've been a pick-six against 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the league. Now I'm just waiting for TNF to go to the tilted Tecmo Super Bowl camera angle.

The Chargers, the NFL's perennial hard-luck-red-headed-step-child-picked-last-in-kickball team, received a few gifts against Buffalo on Sunday. Actually, five of them, to be precise. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley must have been shocked the Bills decided to start rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman. (Almost as shocked as the rest of us.) After five interceptions in the first half by Peterman, the Bolts were cruising to a 37-7 halftime lead. There was drama in the game, though: When do we sit Phil? Third quarter? Early fourth? Now? The Chargers are still in the hunt, kids.

"You don't get anything for close." So said Washington coach Jay Gruden after the loss in New Orleans. It's too bad, because I've been saying for weeks that this Redskins team is much better than it's been given credit for this season. Consider three of Washington's toughest losses: against the Eagles in Week 1, against a hot Chiefs outfit in Week 4, when everyone on the defense was limping off the field, and Sunday's overtime defeat to the streaking Saints. They've got to let this last one go. Washington has the suddenly confident Giants up Thanksgiving night. Put everything else in the rearview.

Rough loss for the Cowboys, who lost their way in the second half. Beyond that game, I want to take a moment to reflect on Terry Glenn passing away on Monday. Glenn came to Dallas in 2003 with little fanfare. His career had flamed out in New England, and after spending one season with Brett Favre in Green Bay, no one knew what to make of his career. His rookie year was still his best, with doubts about his attitude lingering (the Cowboys were his third team in three years). Instead, he became the most reliable wide receiver in Dallas -- and yes, that includes Keyshawn Johnson and Terrell Owens.

Reunited with Bill Parcells, Glenn was clutch for a 2003 Cowboys team that lacked a talented nucleus, yet somehow managed to grind out a 10-6 record. The next season, after a 2-3 start, Glenn was hurt in Week 7. Dallas limped to a 6-10 finish, with longtime Cowboys writer Mickey Spagnola calling Glenn the most indispensable player on the team. The next two seasons, Glenn was productive and, once again, clutch, delivering the game-winning score at Carolina in a contest the Cowboys had to steal if they were going to make the playoffs. The speedy Glenn led the NFL in yards per catch in 2005, then posted a second straight 1,000-yard season in 2006. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his career the next season, cutting short a fine run in the league that ended where it started: with him being one of the best players in it. With players changing teams so much these days, it might seem easy to forget how impactful a guy like Glenn was during his short time in Dallas. Well, we haven't forgotten here.

The Ravens continue to hang around in the AFC playoff race, with the rest of their schedule looking more than manageable. Dean Pees' defensive players were the stars Sunday, making Packers quarterback Brett Hundley absolutely miserable all afternoon. How much did this game feel like Week 1 in Cincy, when Joe Flacco and the offense hardly needed to lift a finger to grab a W? Looking ahead, Baltimore could finish with nine wins. John Harbaugh's group faces the Texans at home, then the Lions, then goes on the road to face AFC North rivals in the Steelers and Browns. A wild-card spot could be on the line during a two-game homestand against the Colts and Bengals. That's not exactly the Justice League. Don't know why I typed that, as I have literally zero interest in seeing that movie. Rental.

The Bucs have sneakily put together wins over the Jets and Dolphins. In fact, Tampa played well enough to sweep the AFC East, if only it could've made field goals versus the Patriots and hadn't collapsed in Buffalo. How much different would this season have looked had those Ls been Ws? If Dirk Koetter's guys are to make any kind of run, the next two road games will be crucial: at the Falcons (an opportunity to knock off one of the wild-card contenders) and at the Packers (an eminently winnable game with Brett Hundley at quarterback). Notice O.J. Howard, who had 52 yards receiving and a touchdown. He also had another called back. The early returns on that first-round investment weren't there early. Slowly but surely, though, Tampa has gotten to the point where it has three viable targets in the passing game. On that note, nice job by the quarterback. #FitzMagic

Another close call for Chicago, which badly needed Lee Smith to close a few of these games out. Sorry, '80s reference. What we learned in Sunday's loss to Detroit was that if the Bears' front seven doesn't make life uncomfortable for the opposing quarterback, premier starters can riddle the secondary. Prince Amukamara is Chicago's top cover guy, but too often, Matthew Stafford was able to pick the Bears apart. Speaking of the '80s, the weakness of that famed '85 team was at corner. Of course, this is what usually happened to the quarterback.

Non-chess move of the week: starting a rookie quarterback drafted in the fifth round for a team in the heart of a playoff race. Benching Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman wouldn't have been that big of a deal if Buffalo had made the postseason at any time over the last 17 years. It wouldn't have been that big of deal if Peterman hadn't been dealing picks like he was wearing a satin vest and red bowtie and your drinks were free. Clearly, the rookie was thrust into a difficult position. Had the move to Peterman worked, coach Sean McDermott would've been called a genius. But a 54-24 loss? What a bucket of turds for Bills fans.

Where oh where did the Raiders' offense go? Last year in Mexico City, Oakland running backs alone accounted for about 200 hundred receiving yards. Derek Carr tossed three touchdown passes and posted a 117 passer rating against a Texans defense that would finish first in the league. On Sunday in the same locale, Carr threw for a pedestrian 237 yards and a touchdown in 50 dropbacks. That's not even 5 yards per throw. In contrast, Tom Brady averaged over 9 yards every time he cocked his arm. Mind boggling. The struggles of the Raiders' defense? Yeah, not as surprising.

With the road win in Denver, the Bengals retained a glimmer of hope that they could make a late run toward a wild-card spot. OK, that's a bit far-fetched -- right in line with the entire plot of "The Force Awakens." At least the Andy Dalton- A.J. Green connection has awoken the last two weeks. After posting 115 yards and a late score against the Titans, Green added 50 yards and an important touchdown versus the vaunted Broncos secondary, a total that does not include the major pass interference call Green drew against Bradley Roby, helping Cincy salt the clock away. With the Bills and Titans faltering this weekend, the Bengals are still in it. So you're saying there's a chance.

The Colts were off this past weekend, with the quarterback who is not playing still in the headlines. Andrew Luck ventured off to Europe to try to get his ailing shoulder working at full-bore again, apparently with the team's blessing. This saga has dragged on for what feels like forever, with the organization -- not the quarterback -- taking the brunt of the public hits. Now Indianapolis hopes Luck will be ready for the 2018 opener, after all the handwringing about him being available for this year's opener. In the meantime, the Colts have been in nearly every game, with no one outside of Indy seeming to notice this isn't that bad a football team. Sigh.

The good vibes from the win at Soldier Field eroded rapidly for Brett Hundley in the first quarter versus that Ravens defense Sunday. Baltimore suffocated the Packers' pass offense all day, making the task in front of a tired Green Bay defense nearly impossible. Hundley's attempts at making Aaron Rodgers-style plays are implausible at this point. He must learn to live to play another down. As the CBS broadcasters put it, Hundley thinks he can make every play. Still like those Packers throwbacks better with the brown helmets. More legit.

Congrats, Tom Savage. No player in pro football needed to have a bright day at the office more than the beleaguered Texans quarterback, who came into Sunday's game with the Cardinals as the owner of an 0-3 record, including two blowouts. While Savage lofted the ball, DeAndre Hopkins was savage. The WR1 toasted Arizona's CB1 on a smooth touchdown pass early in the third quarter. When Patrick Peterson and the Arizona secondary bottled up Hopkins, Savage spread the ball around efficiently. He wasn't brilliant, but he provided hope that, if the defense remains viable sans a pair of its best players, Houston can win.

The Jets were parked on the runway this week. The inevitable discussion that surfaces this time of the season around teams like these is whether they should "tank." Most fans theorize that New York could position itself for another top-five pick (the Jets knocked the last one out of the park) and possibly acquire a franchise QB. The thinking goes that the future would be brighter even if it meant an extra loss or two (or three) in the present. There's just one tiiiiiiiiiiny problem: athletic pride. How do you get 53 men to allow themselves to get beat? How about when their opponents incessantly talk @#$@ after every play? Asking professional -- prideful -- athletes to tank is flat ridiculous. It's difficult enough to allow teams to score in end-game scenarios to save time on the clock. Remember, players are concerned about their game tape, too. So the idea of tanking relies on a false premise: that a large group of people can all agree on anything, much less planning to play poorly.

The offense stalled repeatedly in the second half of the loss to the Texans, perhaps mirroring the Cardinals' chances of grabbing a wild-card spot over the second half of the season. Mixed bag from Blaine Gabbert at QB on Sunday. Jim Hart, Neil Lomax and Kurt Warner would struggle with the running game this team is sporting right now. Adrian Peterson plowed into red jerseys all day: either the Navy and red of the Texans or those worn by his own Cardinals linemen. Peterson finished with 14 carries for 26 yards. Bruce Arians keeps trying to run right at teams. It didn't work against that Houston front. Next up: Jaguars.

Maybe if Brock Osweiler hadn't thrown that interception 2 yards deep into the end zone, the outcome against Cincinnati would have been different. Right, and maybe the Bengals' unis aren't really that awful. The Broncos took a steep drop this week, mostly because they've lost six in a row. We can't hold steady on them based on talent. That was not a contender they fell to at home. Sometimes it feels as though the whole situation is a mess. The quarterback situation is in disarray, while the once-impregnable defense hasn't been able to buy a turnover or a major stop when needed. So who misses Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips? Well, besides everyone?

Another mucky performance from the Dolphins' offense in the loss to the Bucs, at least for most of the day. Jay Cutler threw a pair of picks early, then added a third when DeVante Parker treated the ball like a live grenade. After Cutler departed with a concussion, Matt Moore got the chains moving, posting a decent line: 17 of 28, 282 yards, a touchdown and no picks. Seems like Moore is better as a reliever than a starter. Unfortunately, the defense needed relief late, spoiling a strong second half by allowing the Bucs to travel 58 yards in nine plays to set up the game-winning field goal. Fans need relief from the quarterback situation.

Much discussion about whether the 49ers would start Jimmy Garoppolo after the Week 11 bye. It makes sense, given that he has been deemed the future, and the bye provides an additional week of practice for the recent trade acquisition. But putting aside the fact that the next opponent is Seattle, why would the Niners want to erase the good vibes of their most recent win by supplanting the guy who helped deliver it? Not to mention, C.J. Beathard is no schmuck. He was a third-round pick. While the cost of trading for Garoppolo was a second-rounder, meaning the organization has more invested in him, surely GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan want to evaluate both quarterbacks as thoroughly as possible. He had a rough go early, but Beathard's passer rating versus the Giants was only 123.4. Not bad.

Just when you thought the Giants were in complete disarray, with the owners releasing statements and fans wondering if Big Blue would win another game all season ... they upset the Chiefs. They upset a team coming off a bye, led by a head coach who has soliloquies written about his performances off the bye. Well, that 16-2 mark Andy Reid was sporting added another L. New York got some traction on the ground most of the day, something they had to do to assist an ailing defense. The stiff wind was a factor, as well, and Eli Manning managed it better than Alex Smith. Although it wasn't stiff enough to rankle Ben McAdoo's schlick. It's very Michael Douglas-esque, frankly.

Another loss for the Browns, despite being in a dogfight with the Jaguars all afternoon. Make that a cat fight. Whatever. As close as the game was, Cleveland isn't good enough to outlast teams when surrendering five sacks, three fumbles and two picks. The A.J. Bouye pick midway through the fourth quarter, when the ball sailed out of DeShone Kizer's hand, was a key sequence. The Browns had solid field position and came away empty. Like they have all year.

*Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL. And be sure to tune in to the "NFL Power Rankings" show on NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET. *

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