Power Rankings

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Streaking Broncos crack top 10; banged-up Bears in freefall

Another week down, a kabillion complaints up…

The biggest gripe? Ravens fans wanted to know why their team sits below the 49ers and Steelers despite having beaten them both. Let me explain some of the theory behind these NFL.com rankings:

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Disagree with Elliot Harrison's power rankings? Head to NFL.com/fanrankings to make your own, Nos. 1-32, in whatever order you choose.

a. Just because Team A beats Team B does not make it better. Pittsburgh beat New England, but the Steelers also have been more consistent, despite so many injuries. While Ravens fans will yell and scream about twice beating the Steelers, they fail to mention losing to the Titans, Seahawks and Jags. If Baltimore's fans are correct, and their team is the second best in the NFL, then Pittsburgh's three losses are far more palatable (Ravens, Texans, Ravens) than the aforementioned Ravens' losses.

b. Strength at QB. I feel confident saying fans would take Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger over Joe Flacco.

c. Standings come into play, but these rankings also value which teams have consistently been in games, and their ability to maintain that consistency.

Thus, Denver, Miami, and Seattle all made some noise in this week's rankings. Next week, I'll get into some of the defensive stats that come into play. But back to Baltimore-Pittsburgh for a moment. This was my favorite comment from last week's author-related mudslinging:

"Journalists with Steeler man-crushes are pathetic. I bet Steely McBeam gets you hot."

No, truthfully, Mark Malone's pushbroom 'stache really did it for me. But I always did like "Magnum P.I." over "Murder She Wrote." Now we can get on with some dissension…

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Sunday at the New Meadowlands was the closest call yet, and that's a good thing. The Packers needed to be challenged by a decent team outside the friendly confines of Lambeau. The Giants provided that and more, much like they did versus the undefeated Patriots in Week 17 of the 2007 season. You have to love the play call and throw to Jordy Nelson on the final drive after the Giants had just tied the game. The Packers got one-on-one coverage on Nelson, with no safety help up top, and took a shot immediately. Twenty-seven yards later, the Packers were in field-goal range. It was almost like saying, "This has been fun, but peace out."

The 49ers defense hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown in 12 games. In case you're wondering, no team has ever gone the whole season without allowing a score on the ground. The NFL record for fewest allowed is two, set by three teams: the 1968 Cowboys, 1934 Lions and 1971 Vikings. Those three teams went 33-8. Now, of course the Rams struggle mightily on offense, even with Steven Jackson. But the 49ers have faced some pretty decent backs in Ray Rice, Beanie Wells, Marshawn Lynch, Cedric Benson and LeGarrette Blount this year, too.

For all those concerned about the Steelers being ranked too high, just take a look at the highlights of the division win against the Bengals. Dick LeBeau's defense just wouldn't give Andy Dalton much room to operate, giving up just 232 total yards and two third-down conversions. Pittsburgh fans, is it just me, or does Isaac Redman just look more like a Steelers running back than Rashard Mendenhall? He sure appears to be more effective, irrespective of the latter's two touchdowns Sunday.

The offensive assault continues, as does the footsteps in Dan Marino's ears. Throwing the ball late with a two-touchdown lead, it sure looks like the Saints want Drew Brees to eclipse Marino's single season passing mark of 5,084 yards set in 1984. With all of the rules geared towards the offense these days, it's better than a 50-50 proposition that Brees makes it to 5,085. Is it a 50-50 proposition that he can produce 400 yards and three touchdowns in the freezing January cold at Lambeau?

New England's poor secondary allows the Saints to leap frog into the four spot. How about that Rob Gronkowski, who now has 13 receiving touchdowns on the year, tied for the most ever in a season for a tight end. He almost had a 14th, but it was considered a lateral. Still, consider that record broken.

The Ravens stay put, even with all of the hubbub left in the comments section. The gap between two through six is minimal, but with the 49ers, Steelers, Patriots and the Saints all winning Sunday, there's nowhere to go. While Joe Flacco was not asked to do much in Cleveland, he still ... didn't do much. The "franchise" quarterback went 10 of 23 for 158 yards and a lost fumble. I trust Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Drew Brees a lot more right now. The Ravens did beat the second-ranked 49ers, but the Niners are playing as good at defense as any team in the league.

Talk about a team win. It gets no better than Houston's victory over Atlanta on Sunday. The Texans took care of one of the NFC's better teams without its starting quarterback, backup quarterback, best defensive player, best offensive player and linebacker Brian Cushing hobbling around. T.J. Yates might not have been perfect, but he gives them a better chance to win than Matt Leinart.

No one deserves the eight spot in the ranking. Every team between No. 8 and 14 in last week's rankings lost in Week 13. This is where the rankings get ridiculous. The Bengals got blown out. Ditto the Raiders. The Bears lost to the Chiefs AND lost their best player. The Lions got blown out, but earlier blew out the Broncos, who are ranked higher. The Falcons took care of the Lions earlier this season, yet lost to a third-string quarterback Sunday. Dallas lost to the Lions, but beat the second-ranked 49ers, who won in Detroit in Week 6. ... Ahh, to hell with it. Back to the Bengals. They have the depleted Texans, followed by the Rams and Cardinals on their schedule. The Stripes still can win 10 games.

Tim Tebow had his best game as a true quarterback Sunday in Minnesota. On a day the Von Miller-less defense struggled, Tebow picked up his game as a passer, going 10 of 15 for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Most notable was his ability to throw the ball vertically, putting the ball right on his receivers on several longer tosses. In fact, he wasn't even a factor as a runner. Tebowmania faces a struggling Bears club and then the Patriots. We should know about the viability of this team after that game.

At 7-5, Gang Green is right in thick of the playoff push. New York hosts the Palkos, then travels to face the reeling Eagles before playing a "home" game versus the Giants. The Jets need to hope the Raiders (7-5) implode or Tebowmania (7-5) comes back down to Earth. The 7-5 Titans host the Saints this weekend but have a very manageable sked over the final three weeks.

The Cowboys are the only team that believes in icing their own kicker. I would love to drop Dallas for that loss, but it gets saved due to every other team around it losing, too.

Oakland got blown out in Miami, and the Raiders get no favors from the schedule-maker this week when they have to travel to Lambeau. Should the Raiders fall to 7-6, their focus will be on catching the Broncos in the AFC West. Oakland doesn't want to fight through the mosh pit of New York, Tennessee and Cincinnati for one final wild-card spot.

If the Falcons are to be a contender, Sunday's game against the Texans was one Mike Smith's group had to win. Find a way. The Texans were starting their third-string rookie quarterback and lost their best offensive weapon in Andre Johnson. Yet, the Falcons couldn't capitalize. Particularly disappointing is the play of Matt Ryan, who went 20 of 47 for 267 yards and two picks. That's not enough bang for the buck. The play-calling warrants mention, too, as Atlanta only ran the ball 18 times out of 65 plays from scrimmage.

It was close versus the undefeated Packers, but the best thing that happened to the Giants on Sunday was Dallas falling in the desert. Those two meet up in Arlington on Sunday night. Eli Manning has been very effective in his past four outings against the Cowboys: 312.5 pass yards per game and 10 touchdowns. Good luck, Terrence Newman.

That was one ugly loss Sunday night. The Lions committed so many stupid penalties they made Gary Busey look disciplined.

I think Chris Johnson is back. Maybe. CJ2K looked explosive and not like a rich running back bracing for contact this past weekend. If there is one potential playoff team who no one is talking about, it's Tennessee. What a job by Mike Munchak, taking over for the NFL's longest tenured coach in Jeff Fisher, with a new quarterback, and with his best player in a difficult holdout situation. Then he lost his best option in the passing game in wideout Kenny Britt. Not to mention, the lockout was hardest on new head coaches, who had no OTAs to implement their plan. Kudos to Munchak.

Matt Forte's injury drops this club considerably. It's not often that a first-half Hail Mary wins a game, but it happened Sunday at Soldier Field. It gave the Chiefs just enough offense to play it safe. Meanwhile, the Caleb Hanie-led attack did nothing for Chicago, especially without the queen on the chessboard in Forte. Hanie's line? 11-of-24 passing, 133 yards and three interceptions. Ugh.

What a turnaround by the Dolphins, who are one blown quarter in Dallas away from having won five straight. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan deserves a ton of credit, as his unit shut down both the Oakland passing attack and Michael Bush (10 carries, 18 yards.) The struggling Eagles come to town this weekend. Michael Vick or no Michael Vick, it will be tough sledding against these 'Fins.

Man, if Seattle could have just covered Anthony Armstrong a little over a week ago, you'd be looking at a 6-6 team with four straight wins. Still, 5-7 isn't bad for a team that has glaring holes and looked awful early on, especially Week 2 at Heinz Field. Kudos to Marshawn Lynch, who obviously received much attention for his bowling-ball, first-quarter touchdown run versus the Eagles. But how about the burst he showed on the 40-yarder later in the half? How about the post-game, with a 60-year-old Pete Carroll bouncing around like a 14-year old practicing Eddie Van Halen leg kicks in front of the mirror.

Great to see Philip Rivers find his game Monday night, even if it was against a hurting Jags secondary. The Chargers stay put because they've been so bad for so long. Let's see two good outings in a row.

The defense continues to slide, and the playoffs are pretty much out of the question. That said, there were positives to take from Sunday's home loss to the Titans. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a nice game, and C.J Spiller actually played like a first-round pick with 102 yards from scrimmage. The big issue is defensive coordinator George Edwards' unit, which has been bad for five straight weeks since pitching a shutout of the Redskins in Toronto.

It was tough to tell who the fans were rooting for Sunday. At times, it sounded like a Cowboys home game. What a performance by Ray Horton's defense, though, which has come a long way since the first half of the season. Patrick Peterson is definitely pushing Von Miller for top defensive rookie honors.

OK, now it's really over for the Eagles. To think this team will probably go 6-10 is mind-boggling. More often than not, teams built through free agency suffer the worst letdown in the prognosticated-greatness-to-season-outcome department. The 2000 Redskins signed Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, Andre Reed and Jeff George, and promptly fell flat on their face, going from a 10-6 playoff team in 1999 to 8-8 even with all those "great" additions. Make no mistake, draft and retain is the way to get it done.

Steve Grogan's NFL record for rushing touchdowns stood the test of time until Cam Newton's triple whammy Sunday. Most people only remember Grogan as a multi-padded mummy who wore a Brian Cox neck brace and got sacked every other play. Balding and mustachioed, he looked like that Dad who took your little league team to Pizza Hut after a 13-2 loss. But in 1976, he ran all over the place, scoring a whopping 12 touchdowns in 14 games. Newton's three running scores gives him 13 in 12 games, and the rookie has put up another 13 through the air. Meanwhile, the Panthers have won two straight for the first time since 2009, back when Matt Moore was under center.

Another day in Cleveland, another day with no running game. Except this time, Pat Shurmur didn't even try. The Browns only ran the football 17 times, while calling 39 pass plays. Meanwhile the run defense stinks even worse than the run offense. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron's unit allowed a 290-burger to Ray Rice and company.

The triumphant return of Kyle Orton lasted one play. A lousy flea flicker, no less. Speaking of, it's hard to imagine the fleas even enjoying this one. "Palko! Hanie! It's the NFL on CBS!"

Fitting that the Bucs wore the creamcicle uniforms Sunday. Tampa Bay lost at least 10 games for 14 straight seasons before going to the pewter look in 1997. The 38-19 loss to the Panthers made it six straight for the '11 Bucs, with the potential of a 10-loss season more than likely.

The passing game let this team down once again. It's difficult to lay it all at the feet of Rex Grossman. He lacks playmakers on the outside. The offensive line is mediocre. Still, 19 of 46 for 221 yards isn't going to get it done.

Watching a good portion of this game with NFL Network analyst Tom Waddle, we were very impressed with Christian Ponder's accuracy and arm. A lot of us in this business did not expect the kid to be this good this fast. Unfortunately, the two picks really hurt and probably cost Minnesota the game. But don't forget the 381 yards and three touchdowns along the way. Ponder is the real deal and would be getting a lot more attention if Cam Newton wasn't playing like the top overall pick and then some.

Jacksonville got hammered Monday night, but it's hard to not gush over Maurice Jones-Drew in this space. Like Steven Jackson for the woeful 2009 Rams, Gerald Riggs for the 1985 Falcons, or Walter Payton on a number of Bears teams, MJD continues to be awesome for a cruddy team. Once again, the franchise back had a productive game (188 yards from scrimmage) in a losing cause against a defense ready to stop him. Jones-Drew has 1,137 yards in 12 games for a 3-9 team. Incredible.

One wonders if the Rams could even mount a charity drive right now.

Yes, the Colts lost another game and likely will go winless. Yet, it was nice to see Indy play with some pride. Dan Orlovsky led a 21-point, fourth-quarter rally courtesy of two late scoring throws to the forgotten Pierre Garcon. How ironic would it be if Orlovsky led the '11 Colts to their only win? Considering how much he was ridiculed for losing the 2008 Lions' best chance to win, when he inexplicably ran out of the end zone for a safety, leading Indy to its first W would be pretty neat.

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