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Power Rankings, Week 11: Panthers surge; Colts, 49ers descend

The Week 11 Power Rankings are here, and Drew Brees just threw another touchdown pass ...

... yes, the Cowboys were spanked in New Orleans. But that wasn't the biggest surprise of the weekend. Nor was the Jaguars getting their first win of the season. Nope. You'd have to say the Rams going into Lucas Oil and wasting the Colts by ***30*** was Week 10's shocker -- an upset that also impacted this hierarchy's top 10. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers' surprise win over the Dolphins didn't shake things up as much, but that doesn't mean it didn't matter ...

That's an excellent point, Spencer. But does Mercury Morris care? Probably not. It was great to see the Jags and Bucs get off the schneid, although it really made for a tough week of picking games for your friendly writer. But hey, that's football, man.

As for the rest of the teams, take a gander below. Whole lotta movement this week. (How about those Eagles?) And of course, feel free to send your thoughts along ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence ...

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

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

The train keeps rolling, even without head coach John Fox, who has been recovering from heart surgery. Meanwhile, we found it interesting that Peyton Manning compared his sore ankles to those of James Caan in "Misery." Not sure if you saw that movie, but we've never seen a guy land on the injury report after having a 50-year-old woman take a sledgehammer to his bound feet. Sounds like something that'd happen to Darren McFadden, with as many different maladies as he's had ... but we digress. Next up for the Broncos: Chiefs, in Denver. Awesome.

Since the Chiefs were off in Week 10, we'd like to delve into two things. First, the defense is allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL, which many fans are well aware of ... but did you know the unit also paces the league in third-down conversions allowed, opponent passer rating, sacks and about 15 other subcategories? Secondly -- and most importantly -- what's the can't-miss barbeque house in town? ( @HarrisonNFL)

Thinking this was an excellent time for a dominant performance; the Seahawks needed it, not just to notch another win, but to boost their confidence. Some among the 12th Man agreed with the Power Rankings that the team had to play better. The others blasted us in the comments section and on Twitter.

Here's the deal: I picked Seattle as a Super Bowl team in the preseason, and I did it once again in our midseason reset. But this penchant for letting bad opponents hang around that the Seahawks showed in the past month made it tough to stick by them. Now, though -- with Sunday's solid performance in Atlanta and Aaron Rodgers' injury slowing the Packers -- they're the NFC favorites.

The bye week in New England gave Bill Belichick's group a chance to get healthy -- and also provided extra time to prepare for the Panthers ... who might present the stiffest defensive challenge the Patriots will face all season.

Geez ... after 40 first downs and nearly 50 points, the powerful Saints are now 5-0 at home. This means the Dec. 2 matchup in Seattle will have HUGE playoff implications. If either the Seahawks or Saints get home-field advantage, game over for the rest of the NFC.

For all the talk about Cam Newton, the guys on the other side of the ball have pushed this team to a 6-3 record. The Panthers' defense was flat-out dominant at The 'Stick, making Colin Kaepernick look *Quincy Carter-esque*. (I should tell those of you born in 2004 or later: That's not a flattering comparison.)

The 49ers gained all of 151 total yards, and the Panthers got stops on 11 of 13 third-down plays -- talk about getting off the field. Yes, defense still wins championships ... or regular-season games, at least.

Any team can beat any team. That's the NFL these days. The Colts had trouble getting off the field on third downs against the Rams' offense Sunday. Speaking of third downs, Andrew Luck and Co. converted on just 2 of 12. Did I mention Indy's inability to tackle on special teams? This would be a good time to chuck the game film, Chuck.

Stat of the day: The 49ers totaled 46 net passing yards Sunday. That's pretty brutal. Colin Kaepernick was exposed in every way, both by the Panthers' pass rush and as a quarterback who can't make his receivers look better than they really are. The loss of Vernon Davis to a concussion really hurt. If Davis can't go this week in New Orleans, the 49ers very well could be staring a losing streak in the face.

What an ugly loss to the Ravens. Don't let the close score fool ya'; Cincinnati stayed in this one on the strength of a desperation heave with no time left (and a gift tap from James Ihedigbo). Can't blame Bengals fans if they've done an about-face on Andy Dalton, who was hot a few weeks ago but looked absolutely awful Sunday. At this point, it's safe to say he's holding the team back.

There are wins you circle and point to when looking back on the season, and Sunday's victory over the Bears will prove to be one such win for the Lions.

Detroit brought a bad Chicago track record into the matchup, having stunk it up time and again in the Windy City. (Soldier Field had been more like folder field for Jim Schwartz's team, which had yet to win there under the coach.) But the boys in Honolulu blue pulled off a reversal of fortune, even withstanding a late rally. Don't panic, but the Lions could win the NFC North.

We can point to several factors in the narrow loss to the Lions, but perhaps the most alarming was the complete lack of a running game for the Bears. Chicago got its butt kicked up front, rushing 20 times for a paltry 38 yards. This stood to make the offense one-dimensional, even through the air; 18 of Jay Cutler's 40 pass attempts went to Alshon Jeffery.

How about those Cardinals? With a road game in Jacksonville and a home date with the Colts on tap, Bruce Arians' squad could be 6-5 heading into a stretch of three very winnable games: at Eagles, vs. Rams, at Titans. Between Aaron Rodgers' injury and another Bears loss, it's looking like the Cardinals' primary competition for the NFC's sixth playoff seed very well might be the Carolina Panthers ... whom they've already beaten. #NeilLomax

Call me Positive Perry, but Scott Tolzien didn't look too shabby for the Packers on Sunday. The game didn't look too big for him. At 5-4, Green Bay certainly needs a couple of bounces to go its way, and yet, with matchups against the Giants and Vikings on the horizon, the Packers could be 7-4 heading into Detroit on Thanksgiving -- even without Aaron Rodgers.

Figured Sunday's AFC West tilt at Qualcomm would involve a bit more scoring than it did. Still, despite the loss, Chargers fans should be encouraged. This team can compete with anybody and, at 4-5, is still very much in the thick of the AFC wild-card race, in a dogfight with the Jets, Ravens, Titans and Dolphins. The thinking here is that San Diego is better than all but -- maybe -- the Jets, though Mike McCoy's group must at least split with Kansas City and take winnable games at home versus the Giants and Raiders.

It was bye week for New York, which -- between Jake Locker going down for the season and the Chargers falling to the Broncos in San Diego -- can really make a move toward the playoffs over the next few weeks. Next up: the struggling Bills, whom Rex Ryan's squad already handled in September.

Do you ever wonder what safeties are saying to each other out on the field? We think we caught this bit of dialogue between Cowboys safeties Barry Church and Jeff Heath on Sunday night:

 *"Hey, Barry -- coach says it's in the game plan for you to cover somebody."* 
 *"Yo, Jeff, hey, it's OK for you to actually tackle their guys."* 

Hope Michael Vick isn't prone to splinters. Yes, Nick Foles got away with a few throws, but given the way this team is playing, how could Chip Kelly make a change at quarterback, even when Vick does get healthy?

Give Sunday's win to the Ravens' front seven, which made life miserable for Andy Dalton. The group sacked Dalton five times, collapsing his pocket with abandon and contributing to his 47.1 percent completion rate. The Ravens are now 1.5 games behind the Bengals in the AFC North. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the lack of a viable running attack puts any kind of playoff chances at serious risk. Ray Rice might have lost not a step but a yard -- he ran 18 times for just 30 yards Sunday, and he hasn't gained more than 2 yards per carry since Oct. 20. Yes, 2 yards per carry. Coach John Harbaugh says Rice's health has been an issue. Whatever the issue might be, Baltimore simply must find a running game.

The bye week in Cleveland gave Browns fans more time to wrap their brains around how their team can even screw up tanking the season. #consistency

Losing to the Jags in a game that provided a chance to get over .500: bad. Losing starting quarterback Jake Locker for the rest of the season: worse. It's a shame, too, as it's going to take more than Fitzmagic to secure the AFC's sixth playoff seed now.

I'm not quite going out on a limb here, but Tavon Austin's 98-yard punt return had to be the NFL's play of the day, and it came in what had to be the upset of the weekend. He was so good that he inspired my oldest brother -- who just learned what a text was a year ago -- to send me the following message: "Who the hell is Tavon Austin?" (Follow-up text: "He is looking like Gale Sayers today.") It was a special day for the kid out of West Virginia, who had 314 yards on eight -- eight! -- touches. That means Austin gained almost 40 yards every time he got his hands on the ball.

St. Louis can't expect to lean on a Chris Long fumble return for a score and a special-teams touchdown every week, but the promise of better days is there. And now that Jeff Fisher has found his Eddie George in Zac Stacy, the burden of fulfilling that promise will fall squarely on Sam Bradford, the receivers and whoever the offensive coordinator is in 2014. At 4-6, the Rams aren't exactly done in 2013, but squeezing enough out of this roster to snag a wild-card berth would be a miracle analogous to beating the Colts 38-8.

Forget the rest of Monday night's game; that last stanza was absolutely abysmal. The offensive line looked stuck in its stance. Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile, continues not to show any sense of urgency in the pocket. A quarterback must know the game situation. If you have to get rid of the football or bail early, well, then bail early. Miami fans must be so sick of watching Tannehill get sacked that they could scream.

And this has little to do with the you-know-who-and-you-know-who situation. The Dolphins were allowing bucket-loads of sacks before that whole deal erupted.

Tell you what: It was nice to see an NFL team believe in its running game for a change. And how about that Andre Brown, who carried the football 30 times in Sunday's win over the Raiders? So, next week, expect 62 carries.

Robert Griffin III's best performance of the 2013 season (24-of-37 passing, 281 yards and three touchdowns) wasn't enough for the Redskins. Once again, the defense failed to get a stop when the 'Skins really needed it, ultimately succumbing to Matt Cassel. Yes, Mike Shanahan's group was able to recover from a 3-6 start to win the NFC East last season, but that's a rather large hole to climb out of two years in a row.

Still, if the Redskins are going to pull it off, perhaps putting the ball in the belly of No. 46 is the way to go. Alfred Morris leads all running backs in yards per carry at 5.2 and now is just 175 yards shy of 1,000.

Yes, Terrelle Pryor is a superior athlete. But the Raiders aren't going to hit .500 until the quarterback acquires some pocket awareness and Oakland can run plays that call for him to read more than just one side of the field. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson is either coaching with one arm tied behind his back or he's vanilla by nature. On Sunday in New York, Pryor played almost exclusively to his right. He never was asked to roll out or run to his left, and rarely did he read that side of the field. Half-court offense is for 52-year-old dudes at the rec center sporting headbands from Big 5; it's not for NFL passing attacks.

Would the Steelers deal Ben Roethlisberger? The real question is this: Would they bring back Charlie Batch to play a 25th season?

Don't look now, but the Steelers are still in the AFC North race, just 2.5 games behind the division-leading Bengals -- who come to town Dec. 15. #justsayin

And here we are: the point in the season at which the Bills fall apart. It seems to happen every year around this time. Something always makes us think things will go differently -- this year, it was the impressive road win in Miami -- but they never do. You need some evidence? Over the past six years, the Bills have won just 10 of 36 games from Week 5 through Week 10.

Big victory for the Vikings, who clearly were in need of one. It's amazing how Adrian Peterson can affect the game, even when he rushes for just 75 yards. With the Redskins forced to respect the Vikings' ground attack, their secondary was burned by none other than Matt Cassel on play-action. Peterson's physical, bruising style seemed to lift his teammates on a night when they knew they were the only game on television AND had a chance to win. Not everything is about fantasy stats.

Yep, having just two wins sucks. But don't let that cloud what was a resilient performance by a Texans team starting an undrafted backup quarterback while its head coach was away recovering from a mini-stroke.

Things couldn't have started worse in Arizona, with Case Keenum fumbling on the first play from scrimmage and spotting the Cardinals a quick six. The Texans fought back, though, and made it a game through their very last drive.

 ***Power Rankings side note:*** Did you see Keenum's 
 two touchdown passes to Andre Johnson? One of the game's most hyped defenders, 
 Patrick Peterson, got AJ'd. Twice. 

It's starting to get ugly. Atlanta can't score on offense right now. Sunday's loss to the Seahawks marked the third consecutive game in which the Falcons failed to top 14 points -- it also was their third consecutive defeat by two scores or more. Roddy White is back, but he's mostly a non-factor. And while Harry Douglas caught seven balls, he gained a total of 49 yards for an offense that put up just 226 overall. Considering that this is a team built to win by scoring gobs of points ...

Nice Monday night win for the Buccaneers, whose defense allowed the Dolphins to gain just 213 yards of offense, including an astounding 2 yards on 14 carries. It's been a long time since we've seen such a piddly rushing total. In fact, the NFL hasn't seen that kind of run defense since the Redskins held the Cowboys to 2 yards on 16 attempts on Dec. 30, 2007.

Congrats to the Jags, who got coach Gus Bradley his first victory the old-fashioned way: by winning the turnover battle. Jacksonville forced four of them, and 17 of their 29 points came off those takeaways. This, of course, is how Bradley intended to win in the first place.

With the offense missing the suspended Justin Blackmon, the defense will have to be the instigator if this Jacksonville team is to put two to three wins together this season. But before we look ahead, let's rejoice in this W. Don't know about you, but we were growing weary of the Jaguars sucking every week.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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