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NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Oakland Raiders enter top three

Stretch time.

This is where all the games matter.

OK, obviously, in a 16-game season, all of 'em count heavily. Yet, now we are down to five games for every team besides the Browns and Titans (the last two bye teams, both off this week), which means there's juuuussssssst enough time for that 5-6 or 6-5 team to make its move, and for a division leader to crap the bed. Will that latter team be the Texans? Or the Lions? How about the Seahawks, whose offensive line looked awful Sunday? Could Seattle slide down the seed line?

So many -- like the pesky Bucs or the explosive Saints in the NFC South -- could make a move right now. Over in the AFC South, the Titans, riding on their exotic smashmouth tricycle, got a nice push in the back from the football gods:

Holy cow, Eric -- and not in the Harry Caray way. Most football fans around the country -- and in Chicago, for that matter -- probably didn't watch Titans at Bears. Chicago came down with a nasty case of Ted Ginnitis (or Will Fulleritis?) yesterday. Who do the Bears' WRs think they are, the Eagles?

Many football fans, though, caught the thriller in the Black Hole:

Well, Chris ... I got:

1) Ezekiel Elliott

2) Derek Carr

3) Tom Brady

4) Matthew Stafford

5)Russell Wilson, Marcus Peters, Khalil Mack. (The latter's defense has improved, which makes the Raiders legit.)

OK, enough dilly-dally. Below you'll see how I separate the serious contenders from the also-rans. The top 10? Pretty solid. After that? Football gumbo -- little bit of everything, but mostly the teams that will be home after New Year's. Your take is welcome, as always: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Nov. 22 Power Rankings.

This train ain't stopping anytime soon. Heard a lot of speculation that the Seahawks are a bigger threat than the Cowboys. Hmm. Yep, the Cowboys' secondary is getting torched. They were much better when Morris Claiborne and Barry Church were healthy. Guess what? Church is back, and Claiborne should follow suit in a couple of weeks. If you think Dallas is a favorable matchup for Seattle, perhaps you should watch highlights of the last time the Seahawks saw those big boys up front (that is, with a starting-caliber QB under center; we're looking past last season's Matt Cassel-starring matchup). Tell you what; I'll provide them for you.

Escape from New York. That's what Snake Plissken did with an eye patch, and that's what the Patriots did Sunday ... except their hero wasn't a leading man in the mold of Kurt Russell or Tom Brady, but rather a tattoo-bearing 30-something defensive end. Chris Long, who entered Week 12 with one sack, sped 'round the left tackle and dove for Ryan Fitzpatrick's cocked arm during the most important stanza of Patriots- Jets. And Long was simply one of a pack of unlikely saviors. James White, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan all came up huge on the Patriots' final scoring drive. Trey Flowers hopped on that errant football Long forced. The premier team in the AFC, fueled by many bargain-brand players -- well, this week, anyway.

If Derek Carr didn't enter the little MVP convo you have with yourself in the shower every Monday morning, then he never will. Carr came back from a dislocated finger to lead the Raiders to victory in another close shave. Ironically, Carr looked like the Luke Skywalker of the NFL (which he kind of is) with that black glove on his hand, except, of course, he's working for the Dark Side. Now that we're full-on going down the nerd rabbit hole ... If Darth Vader was Luke's father, Khalil Mack was the Panthers' daddy on that final drive. Holy crap, what a move he put on Mike Remmers to force an errant throw on Oakland's side of the field. Then came the strip-sack with the game on the line. What a dude. #DPOY?

Welp, all that speculation regarding Seattle running the table and being the team to beat got sacked down in Tampa. Russell Wilson got face-planted six times, including a few uber-important sacks from the Bucs' pass rush late. Sure bet Wilson wanted to take an Uber straight out of the big pirate ship, as he ran for his life for much of the first half. The takeaways here are better: A) The Seahawks' defense held Tampa Bay to 14 points (sans Earl Thomas) despite getting virtually nothing from the Seattle offense, and B) Wilson was healthy enough to rush for more yards in this game (80) than he had all season entering Week 12 (79). #littlethings

For all the firepower on that Giants offense (including a top-three wideout in Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Manning and his two Super Bowl rings, Victor Cruz and a rookie in Sterling Shepard who is already one of the better slot receivers in the NFL), they just can't explode. Manning and Co. still haven't topped 30 points in any game this season. In fact, the offense got a big boost from the defense against the Browns on Sunday: Jason Pierre-Paul provided some instant O with his fumble recovery for a touchdown in the second half. That's the group that should be making out with kicking nets and providing pregame theatrics. Steve Spagnuolo's unit has allowed a paltry 19.4 points per game.

How fun was it to watch Justin Houston blow up blocking schemes on Sunday night? J.J. Watt is considered the best defensive player in football, Von Miller has 58 commercials and Marcus Peters gets all the praise on the Chiefs' defense -- but Houston is a bad@#$. Sure, he had three sacks. How about some of the stops he made in the run game? The dude made 10 tackles and forced a fumble. Somehow the football world conveniently forgot his 22 (legitimate) sacks in 2014. On another note, I once hit a Cairo Santos banker off a windmill at Malibu Putt Putt Golf and Games. Anyone been to Howl-in-One? (@HarrisonNFL) Crazy Sunday night kicking lives.

Before anyone gets too down about the overtime loss and Fat Lever banker field-goal special, consider this: Trevor Siemian showed he could play in a playoff atmosphere. A couple of those throws -- like the 64-yard deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders and the Bennie Fowler lob-turned-catch-and-run-touchdown -- were beauties. As far as the decision to go for the 62-yard field-goal attempt ... immediately after Brandon McManus lined up to kick it, Gary Kubiak looked like a man who had just "won" a $580 bid on an Elvis Comeback Edition Plate on eBay. Then he realized he just bid $580 on an Elvis Comeback Edition Plate. #7-4

Crazy-specific note arose out of the end-game madness in Detroit on Thursday. Darius Slay's clutch interception was the first pick in a tie game with under a minute to play this season. Another interesting thing that popped up on Thanksgiving was the semblance of a running game for the Lions. Not much, but enough to provide Matthew Stafford with a morsel of balance and keep this team in first place in the NFC North. While we talk Carr, Zeke and Touchdown Tommy, how about a little MVP love for Stafford?

The Falcons climb back into the top 10, leapfrogging the Redskins and the aqua-hot Dolphins, following a strong second-half showing versus the Cardinals on Sunday. Your friendly writer took flak for keeping Atlanta in the No. 11 spot last week. But when a team is ranked that highly, it shouldn't move much on a bye, given that it did nothing to merit moving that week. What the Falcons did earn this week is credit for the defense, which, after a rough first half, held the Cardinals to six points in the second. This from a unit that came into the contest allowing a whopping 28.3 points per game.

The offense moved the ball at will against the Cowboys. Kirk Cousins looked incredible, enough for owner Daniel Snyder to dance his way to one of those "need cash now" joints. And Washington became only the fifth team since 1950 to post 500 yards of offense with no turnovers and lose. It's tough being in the NFC East these days. Don't kid yourself, though: Cousins is the real deal.

The 7-4 record is fun for a fan base that has suffered enough in the post-Marino apocalypse. The Dolphins escaped for the second straight week, weathering a late surge by Colin Kaepernick and the almost-Browns-like 49ers on Sunday. On that note, Miami's win brought back memories of the narrow survival vs. Cleveland back in Week 3. The scores were almost identical (31-24 Sunday, 30-24 a couple months back). Of course, before Sunday, the Dolphins hadn't played any quarterback who was going to rush for 113 yards. (Heck, it didn't look like Jared Goff would make that throwing the ball for most of the game vs. Miami in Week 11.) That's a tough in-game adjustment to make, to say the least. It's also quite tough to keep a team in the top 10 that should've lost last week to the Rams (who lost to the Saints 49-21 on Sunday, by the way) and barely beat the 49ers this week. Thoughts? ( @HarrisonNFL)

Such an important win for the Bills on Sunday. At 6-5, they are still a game back in the wild-card race. Yet, two of the teams they trail are certainly vulnerable. The 7-4 Broncos still have games remaining against the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders. The Dolphins are the weakest team in the NFL with seven wins or more. Buffalo will host Adam Gase's upstarts at New Era Field on Christmas Eve. Then Rex Ryan's outfit closes out the season in, of all places, MetLife Stadium against those lovable Jets. #footballisfamily

Clutch, clutch, clutch strip job by Elvis Dumervil on Sunday. Not the Chippendales kind, but rather the I-am-going-to-make-sure-we-don't-blow-this-one-score-game deal. If you are a Ravens fan, complete with your Michael McCrary jersey and Peter Boulware bobblehead, you've seen enough one-score losses to last a lifetime. Dumervil took a deep rush upfield and got around the right tackle before reaching around with both paws to just rip the football out of Andy Dalton's hands. Such a big-time play by a guy who hasn't gotten home in the pocket much since 2014 -- granted, injuries have limited him to three games so far this year. Hey, Baltimore is 6-5.

When Antonio Brown is right -- and the Steelers' offense is right -- that dude is the best player in pro football. He's been more productive than any wideout in the NFL over the last three seasons (yes, even Julio Jones, sweetheart). Moreover, find someone who is better at his position than Brown is at wide receiver. J.J. Watt? Hurt. Rob Gronkowski? Hurt too often. Tom Brady? That's about the only other player to consider. I'm not a GIF guy, but if you haven't seen the one of Brown burning Vontae Davis on Thursday, it looked like the massive tornado from "The Day After Tomorrow" blew Davis over. Jake Gyllenhaal crushes hard on a girl in that movie and tries to save Manhattan in the process. The world ends, but it doesn't. Better than "San Andreas," though. OK, we're done.

Funny thing about throwing the football: Generally, you want to pass it more than 3 yards past the line of scrimmage to accomplish anything. While realizing the Vikings' offensive line is banged-up -- and bad -- you think Minnesota could have taken one or two vertical shots in each half Thursday? Watching that offense drives a man to take shots. If that passing game was a shot, it would be more lemon drop than Jäger. Make the defense play the whole field, or else Sam Bradford's impressive completion percentage means diddly-poo. Oh, and corners will sit on routes.

The outlier. The booger of a team that opponents just can't pick. The weakest team in the loaded AFC West that can beat any team in the loaded AFC West. Peg the Chargers any way you want. Peg them as a 5-6 team if you'd like. Or peg them, more accurately, as having a roster beset by injuries that hasn't gone down. San Diego is Balboa in "Rocky II," absorbing blow after blow from flashier opponents, and then climbing up the ropes from what you thought was the final knockdown one more time. Perhaps there isn't enough time to make it to the postseason. But with a scoring differential of 313-291 -- and a fresh road win over a division leader -- San Diego sure doesn't feel like a losing team to me.

The Packers probably should be behind Tampa Bay, given the way the latter has performed over the last three weeks. The only reason Green Bay leaps the Bucs is because of what we saw Monday night: a Packer coaching staff working with a slightly fuller toolbox. This group is slooowly getting healthier on defense, as Damarious Randall was a welcome presence in Philly and Clay Matthews looked more effective despite playing at ILB often. When Jake Ryan returns (likely next week), this group will be even better.

The upset of Week 12 went down in Tampa Bay, as the Bucs took down the darlings of many NFL analysts. With all the yakety-yak about the Seahawks being the team that would slow the Cowboys' roll, perhaps we all forgot about Gerald McCoy and those 10 other guys on the Tampa defense -- an outfit that has improved substantially since Derek Carr and Matt Ryan absolutely torched it in back-to-back weeks. The pass rush was relentless in its pursuit of jitterbug Russell Wilson. The only downside -- and why Tampa is beneath the Packers -- is that McCoy was seen in a walking boot postgame. Going to the other side of the ball, which wideouts would you take over Mike Evans right now? Antonio Brown? Julio Jones? Maybe Odell Beckham Jr.? ( @HarrisonNFL)

Ugly game on all fronts for the Eagles, from defensive breakdowns to some mysterious officiating and a couple of important misfires by Carson Wentz. Thought the most important development was when the officiating crew missed an obvious hold on Vinny Curry on a third-down conversion to James Starks. Green Bay went on to score a touchdown to go up 24-13 on that drive. Of course, when you allow opponents to go 10 for 14 on third down, you aren't going to win very many games. As for Wentz, there is no glossing over his declining play after his shiny first four starts. He is missing key throws. Although his supporting cast outside gives him anything but support.

Offensive jambalaya in New Orleans on Sunday. Holy Archie Manning. Holy George Rogers. Holy Joe Horn and his hidden cellphone. The Saints put up a 49-burger on the hottest defense in the NFL. Willie Snead was launching touchdown passes. Michael Thomas was bowling over guys into the end zone. Mark Ingram -- yeah, that Mark Ingram -- rushed for 146 yards on a mere 14 carries. Jordan Hill -- the TE2 in this offense, for crying out loud -- caught six balls. The run defense, with Sheldon Rankins contributing, sure looks better. Look out for these guys.

At this point, no one is sure whether to take the Texans seriously or not. Houston is, without question, the weakest division leader in the NFL. In fairness, this is the first time this season that the Texans have dropped consecutive games. The Week 11 loss to the Raiders was certainly questionable from an officiating standpoint. Still, the running game is uneven ( Lamar Miller has averaged 3.8 yards per carry or less six times this season), and it is increasingly clear the huge investment in Brock Osweiler was just a huge investment -- not a fruitful one.

Wonderful to watch the first half Sunday and see Bruce Arians on the sideline coaching his squad. Although, for his sake, kind of wish he didn't have to watch the second half. That's when any chance of competing in Atlanta -- and perhaps, competing for a wild-card spot -- escaped the Cardinals' grasp. At 4-6-1, Arizona must win out to even have a chance at that sixth spot. The Giants are 8-3, currently in line for the fifth spot. And given that the Redskins are 6-4-1 (with Kirk Cousins playing like Kurt Warner), running the table probably gives Arians' group a 50-50 shot -- at best.

So most people knew the Colts probably weren't going to win with Scott Tolzien at quarterback against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night. This was a bad matchup for Indy, even if Andrew Luck had been active. What matters now is how the back sked lines up for the 5-6 Colts, who are still in the AFC South race. Next Monday, they travel to New York -- presumably with Andrew Luck in tow -- to face a Jets team that has been hit or miss (mostly miss) this season. Luck, Hilton, Moncrief > the Jets' secondary. Then the Texans gallop into town -- that's a team Indy should've beaten in October in Houston. This group could easily be 7-6 and right back in the division race come mid-December. Seriously.

It's better to be lucky than good -- and it's even better to be damn lucky. The Bears dropped a number of footballs on Sunday, including two in the end zone in the waning moments of a six-point game. Tennessee's defense allowed Chicago backup Matt Barkley to convert 10 of 20 third- and fourth-down chances, while the Bears' offense racked up 411 yards. Matt Barkley. The young quarterback nobody paid attention to played his tail off. As for the Titans' sophomore quarterback, it was clear by the expression on Marcus Mariota's face as he walked off the field that he felt they escaped. Hey, you never apologize for winning. This group is a half-game back in the AFC South.

Valiant comeback push from the woebegone Panthers in Oakland. Down 24-7, the Panthers were looking like a haggard group ready to pack it in, both for a long plane flight home and, frankly, an even longer offseason. But Carolina didn't quit. Cam Newton, Ted Ginn Jr. and Thomas Davis (as usual) picked it up for everybody else, as the Panthers scored 25 unanswered points in the second half. Unfortunately, lack of protection and a football jussst off the fingertips of the great Greg Olsen did the defending NFC Champs in, probably for the season.

Taking on the Saints' offense in New Orleans is a tough assignment, even for a fantastic unit like the Rams' defense. But to give up 49 points?! For an idea of how out-of-character that is, consider that Los Angeles had allowed a total of 50 points in the team's previous four games combined. And seven of those points weren't even on the defense, coming via a Landon Collins pick-six in the London loss to the Giants. As if Rams fans needed to be reminded. RE: Jared Goff ... Thought the rookie acquitted himself fairly well, especially the part where he tossed three touchdown passes (in only his second NFL start).

Tough to say the season is over, but we've been speculating about it for a couple of weeks now in this section of the Power Rankings. The normal culprits -- along with some new ones -- got to the Bengals on Sunday in Baltimore. The running backs rushed 17 times for 50 yards. We saw the pass offense try to operate without A.J. Green for the first time this season, and it wasn't pretty. ( Andy Dalton put up less than 6 yards per throw.) Dalton's lack of protection and pocket awareness cost the team dearly late -- just as we saw against the Redskins in London and in the Week 10 loss to the Giants. What a comedown from last year's 12-4, division-winning campaign.

Touching scene in Chicago when the CBS crew stayed on a shot of Matt Barkley hunched over Josh Bellamy, consoling his wideout after a big drop that could have won the Bears the game (the extra point would have been the difference). Two plays after Bellamy's drop, Deonte Thompson dropped a beautifully placed ball that Barkley had sailed past the outstretched hands of Perrish Cox. It was the capper on a day of frustration, a day that should have been the Bears', and a day that saw John Fox say to hell with the fact that the inexperienced Barkley was under center -- in his first career start, Barkley attempted 38 passes in the second half alone.

The Jets have become the NFL's Vin Diesel movie: giving you the same plotlines that reel you in for half a second before you inevitably turn to something better than "Riddick" to close out the day. In the Jets' case, that turning is often prompted by a Ryan Fitzpatrick turnover, as we saw in Kansas City and Miami this season -- and, most bitterly, against the Bills in the 2015 finale. The otherwise-tight Patriots-Jets affair was no exception. Chris Long's strip-sack was more a defensive-hustle play than it was a Fitzmagic blunder, but the QB has to feel that pressure and step up. Fans in New York have been merciless on their quarterback. But their defense is merciful to Tom Brady, so that's nice.

Another subpar day throwing the football for Blake Bortles, although in Buffalo, the third-year quarterback mitigated much of the air game's deficiencies with timely scampers out of the pocket. The Jags had no answer for the best player on the field, Bills back LeSean McCoy, as he tore the defense up for 134 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. That said, Jacksonville gave the Bills a much tougher game than most envisioned. That said, this team has dropped six in a row and is now 14-45 in the Gus Bradley era.

A few weeks ago, we penned a few lines about athletic pride with regard to this football team. It's worth highlighting again. The 49ers, a 1-9 group with nothing to play for, gave the streaking Dolphins all they could handle in Miami. Colin Kaepernick became the first player in franchise history to throw three touchdown passes and rush for more than 100 yards in a game. His fourth-and-long conversion on the final drive was a beaut: Rolling out of the pocket to his right, Kaepernick threw across his body to a sprinting Torrey Smith (running the opposite direction) across the field. Unfortunately, taking too much time between plays and making a bad decision to cut back on the final play of the game ruled the day. The point: Losing dominates the headlines and sports shows, but that 49er quarterback is doing a lot more than kneeling out there.

Well, if you made it this far down the Week 13 Power Rankings, we salute you. If you didn't happen to catch Cleveland's game this weekend, the Browns lost by two touchdowns, which counts as a close game for them these days. If you haven't perused the standings lately, they're 0-12. Josh McCown put in a solid day's work, minus a costly fumble. The running game was absent again -- unless you count how Cleveland is sprinting toward the No. 1 pick.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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