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NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: 49ers take top spot from Patriots

Statement Sunday.

We said it on NFL Network all last week. Over the top? Maybe. True? Absolutely.

Let's face it: The league has become such a parity party that it's impossible to determine which teams are consistent and which are two-week wonders. We're all lulled into some kind of trance upon seeing back-to-back strong showings from a club, but the reality in 2012 is that the overall quality of play seems to be down. How else do you explain the 12-2 Houston Texans struggling, even in recent wins? Or the Atlanta Falcons getting blasted in Carolina in Week 14? Or the Detroit Lions sporting a not-so-sterling 4-10 mark one year after breaking through at 10-6?

We've been forced to swallow a large gulp of mediocrity. Thus, the eyeball test must apply in spots. So does some simple logic (where applicable).

Yeppers. Jordan, it has to be that way. And because the San Francisco 49ers jumped all the way from No. 5 to the top spot, some good teams had to drop despite wins. That's life in the Power Rankings at this stage of the season.

With so much shakeup in the top 10, we're prepared for some, uh, "feedback." The dropbox is @HarrisonNFL.

Now, let the dissension commence ...

(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)

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San Francisco earned this spot Sunday night. Period. The 49ers ran the ball effectively, frustrating Tom Brady time and again for two and a half quarters. While the New England Patriots mounted a scintillating comeback, it was at least partially due to the Niners playing soft coverage. More importantly, when Colin Kaepernick needed to make a play for his club, he did -- hitting Michael Crabtree on a touchdown pass to seal the deal. Special teams played a huge role, too. The LaMichael James return to answer the Patriots' fourth-quarter salvo was a game-changer.

Statement Sunday = big-time football from the San Francisco 49ers.

Last week, the Falcons were jettisoned out of Charlotte by the Cam Newton Express. This week, they won, 34-0. Atlanta hadn't dominated a team like that all season. I'll tell you this: If Julio Jones gets going in the playoffs, it will be quite tough for defenses to match up with him, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez -- especially when Matt Ryan gets protection.

How do you figure the NFL in 2012? The world-beating New England Patriots -- authors of 59-24, 49-19 and 42-14 blowouts over the past month -- get their arses handed to them for a half. Then they mount a 28-point comeback for the ages. Then they revert back to being the Jags. So much for their spot atop the Power Rankings -- only lasted seven days. Drops, fumbles and Aaron Hernandez alligator arms all led to the beautiful showing you saw in the first half. In the end, it was just too big a hole to climb out of.

The Houston Texans take a hit -- despite the home win -- because of the major statements made by the 49ers and Falcons. There was nowhere to go but down for a team that has struggled defensively as of late. It appeared Andrew Luck was mounting another Luck-esque comeback for a little bit, but the Texans survived. On a related note, there were some pretty brutal hits on the Indianapolis Colts' rookie quarterback, starting with Antonio Smith getting Luck right up under the chin in the second quarter. Indy's front line had more than a tinge of trouble with the Texans' defensive front.

The Denver Broncos refuse to blink. John Fox's team has won nine in a row, scoring at least 30 points in seven of those contests. The only teams to keep them below 30 in that span? The Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, believe it or not. Yet another banner performance for Knowshon Moreno, who leapfrogged Ed Reed en route to 118 yards rushing and a touchdown in the 34-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Tell me you saw Moreno's premium play coming, and I'll call B.S. all day.

In terms of the Broncos dropping a spot ... Well, where would you like me to put them? Denver's three losses came against the three teams directly above them in this pecking order. And that other team, the 49ers, just beat last week's No. 1 squad on its home turf. Not to mention, San Francisco is a more well-rounded group than this one.

Given all of the injuries at the skill positions, the Green Bay Packers are doing a swell job of mixing and matching personnel groupings. Jordy Nelson was inactive in Chicago, leaving James Jones to be the playmaker in the red zone. Jones has just 51 catches, but a whopping 12 have gone for touchdowns. That's one every 4.3 grabs, far and away the most efficient touchdown-to-reception ratio among the league's more prolific receivers. In fact, he leads the NFL with 12 touchdown catches. James freaking Jones.

Sure am glad Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks executed a fake punt, up 47-17 with just under 13 minutes to play. The Buffalo Bills were thisclose to mounting a 30-point comeback.

What a weekend for the Cincinnati Bengals. They win big in Philadelphia on Thursday night -- despite not playing their best game -- and then get to enjoy a Sunday double-header, with the Ravens getting dismantled at home and the Steelers faltering at Dallas. Hey, and just for giggles, the Browns fell, too. Then again, the Bengals might have been rooting for Cleveland. Why not pull for a non-threat to get the win? I see guys do it at bars all the time.

Kirk Cousins, you da man. That's a helluva performance by a rookie playing behind the most famous first-year quarterback this side of Andrew Luck (or anywhere). Let's see ... 26-of-37 for 329 yards, two touchdowns and a 104.4 passer rating ... on the road ... in your first career start. Give me a break. Great stuff.

I was typing a mean Chicago Bears blurb, but Alshon Jeffery pushed me before I had a chance to make a paragraph ...

The Baltimore Ravens' defense has had the wood laid to it too often. While talk of the Cam Cameron-less offense was all the rage in the media last week, where's the other unit? Defensive coordinator Dean Pees' group has allowed 29.3 points per outing during this three-game losing streak. The Redskins and Broncos both ran the football up and down the field on Baltimore's front seven.

The New York Giants lost, 34-0, in Week 15. Last year, they lost, 23-10, in Week 15 behind three Eli Manning interceptions. So, of course, Big Blue will win Super Bowl XLVII.

The Dallas Cowboys lose everybody on defense ... and beat another team with a winning record. Once again, Dallas played without half its starting defense and still held its opponent in check. In the past two games, the most depleted defense in pro football has allowed just 43 points to Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger -- no small feat, with a bunch of spares getting way too much playing time. DeMarco Murray isn't gaining big yards, but he's picked up some big first downs and touchdowns since coming back. #hugelift

No, the Indianapolis Colts couldn't pull out the win at Reliant Stadium on Sunday. Yes, they left some opportunities out on the field (see: that holding call on Reggie Wayne's beautiful first-half touchdown toe-tap). Nonetheless, you have to appreciate the fight in this team. Even if the Colts are one-and-done in the playoffs, or lose their final two games (which is not likely, considering the Kansas City Chiefs are on the docket), there is no way to deem the 2012 season as anything short of successful.

Sunday's overtime loss in Dallas makes this week's match with the Bengals an elimination game. Pittsburgh's front five must slow down the NFL's most effective pass rush. Through 14 games, Cincy has 43 sacks. The good news here is the Bengals' ineptitude in the AFC North, i.e., their 1-3 record. Last time these two clubs met, Jonathan Dwyer gashed the Bengals' defense to the tune of 122 yards on just 17 carries. Best way to slow a pass rush: run the football.

Read the St. Louis Rams blurb two slots down. When you're done with that, come back. ............ .................................................................................................................................................... ............. OK, so here's what the Minnesota Vikings need to make the playoffs: two of the three NFC East contenders to lose ( Redskins at Eagles, Saints at Cowboys, Giants at Ravens) and the Cardinals to play their tails off versus the Bears. Meanwhile, your Vikes are in Houston. From the in-case-you're-wondering department: The Texans' run defense is ranked fifth in the NFL. I still wouldn't bet against Adrian Peterson.

I stared at the New Orleans Saints' heading for several minutes, pondering which direction this team is moving in. Did the vacated bounty penalties motivate this team? Was the 41-0 shellacking of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a complete fluke? Does this team fall on its face in Dallas this week?

What a boon it would be to the organization to go through all of the offseason drama, the loss of Sean Payton, an 0-4 start, months of bad press ... and end up at 8-8. Just sayin'.

At home, three-game win streak in tow, and an opportunity to play some football in December that matters ... So, what did the St. Louis Rams do? Burn the pot roast. The run tackling against the Minnesota Vikings was atrocious. Whether it was bad angles, poor form or lack of effort, no wires are crossed when you read the box score: 212 yards rushing on 24 carries for Adrian Peterson. Hey, but they held Toby Gerhart to minus-5 yards on five carries. So that's good.

Are the Miami Dolphins still relevant? You bet. With Pittsburgh plummeting to .500, Miami needs to catch the Bengals. Don't forget: The Dolphins rolled into Paul Brown Stadium back in Week 5 and shut down Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the Bengals' high-octane offense. So, the Dolphins need a Cincy loss at Heinz Field this week (and against Baltimore the following Sunday), along with a Steelers loss to Cleveland in Week 17. Of course, the Dolphins had better win out.

From 6-4 and pushing for a playoff berth in mid-November to 6-7 and facing a must-win in New Orleans last Sunday. So what did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do? Lose, 41-0. Was the effort there late? That's for the Tampa players to ask themselves. But I can tell you this: From my vantage point, Josh Freeman not only left a lot of plays on the Superdome turf, he also failed to compete with a sense of urgency.

The Carolina Panthers have an opportunity to close out the 2012 season on a chunky winning streak, with Oakland and New Orleans remaining. (The Raiders are the Raiders, and the Saints fell in Charlotte earlier this season.) OK, I'm not guaranteeing the Panthers will roll 'em. But what a solid end this could be to a season that seemed completely lost not long ago. You know, some fans want their 3-9 teams to close the doors, have the players go antiquing with their grandmothers and call it a day at 3-13 -- so as to obtain a premium pick in April's draft. That sucks. Play ball, play hard and win out.

It's hard not to get ticked off by Cleveland Browns football. Brandon Weeden made some extremely poor throws Sunday. Or rather, let's call them poor reads. Each pick came courtesy of a linebacker in zone coverage hanging out underneath the Browns' routes. Basically, they were the kinds of turnovers plenty of mediocre quarterbacks could easily avoid. The second -- snagged by Redskins linebacker London Fletcher -- was woefully underthrown. Was Weeden the reason Cleveland lost? No. But he sure isn't helping this team win.

The Buffalo Bills gave their fans an ounce of hope in dropping the Dolphins a month ago ... before dumping a pound of reality on them in the weeks that followed. Buffalo lost three of four, with all opponents but the Seahawks carrying about the same talent level. Is this is it for Chan Gailey? Ryan Fitzpatrick? And what about those heavy company resources poured into a defense that hemorrhaged 50 points to the Seahawks on Sunday? Yikes.

I was finally getting into a rhythm writing these rankings, so I put Tebow in for a series. It seemed to make perfect sense.

NASA scientists drove over from a 65-year-old UFO hangar in Roswell, N.M., to figure out how the Arizona Cardinals scored 38 points. They gained 196 yards. You read that right: 196 yards. Arizona went 2-for-12 on third down. The Cards punted nine times and barely held the ball for more than 28 minutes. #unreal

Example No. 6,141 of why the NFL is so whacked out: Last week, the San Diego Chargers marched into Pittsburgh, having lost seven of their last eight, and whupped up on an aspiring playoff team. Then they hosted the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and lost, 31-7. It was 21-zip in the first quarter. All that "speculation" that Norv Turner and A.J. Smith are on the way out just got a lot more, uhh, speculatory.

The Jake Locker Experiment probably requires more time to be properly evaluated, considering his injury woes this season and the fact that Matt Hasselbeck started all of 2011. Nonetheless, Locker had better work through his inaccuracy issues, or he'll quickly become an athletic and mobile backup quarterback. It doesn't help that he still doesn't seem to go through his progressions or read the defense, even after two years in the league.

Man, who doesn't feel for Detroit Lions fans right about now? This ballclub -- unlike the Panthers -- seems to have shut it down. Losing, 38-10, to a Cardinals team with a historically bad offense is an embarrassment. What a dried, rotten cherry on last season's postseason sundae. Lions fans, I'm on your side. You deserve better. Much better.

The Philadelphia Eagles put up a fight for a while last Thursday, with the front four showing signs of life. Bryce Brown was a disappointment, though; it will be interesting to see what his role is in 2013. Of course, much of that depends on the head coach. Don't be getting all Chip Kelly'd out. These things certainly don't always play out in the manner in which we anticipate; my guess is, someone nobody is expecting will wind up roaming the sidelines in Philadelphia. #Kotite. Kidding.

No, you're not mistaken. The Oakland Raiders won. Yes, it was a shutout. Pinch yourself. It was Oakland's first shutout in 10 years -- almost to the week -- as the Raiders shut out these same Chiefs, 24-0, back in Week 17 of 2002. And how about Darren McFadden? From injured versus the Broncos a couple Thursdays ago to 30 carries in the shutout win.

Opponents: 383 points this season. Jacksonville Jaguars: 219. Similar to the members of Lions Nation, Jacksonville's fans deserve better -- everyone watching on television, as well as the 528 at the game.

What more can you say about the Kansas City Chiefs? One-for-15 on third- and fourth-down attempts says a lot. So does getting shut out by a team that had allowed the most points in pro football entering last Sunday. The Chiefs ran 10 times for 10 yards. Alright, I'll quit typing here. Time to hit Control-Alt-Delete in Kansas City.

Elliot Harrison is an analyst on NFL Network's NFL Fantasy Live show, weekdays at 1 p.m. ET and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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