Tebow-led Broncos continue rise in Week 12 rankings

Another week, another Niners win.

You realize that if Green Bay wasn't playing like the 1962 Packers, the 49ers -- with a rookie coach and Alex Smith at quarterback -- would be your No. 1 team?

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It's hard to fathom. As is the Bills' freefall, Tebowmania's 4-1 record, and Detroit's old-new running back Kevin Smith coming out of nowhere to put up 201 yards of offense with three touchdowns. The unpredictability is, of course, what makes the league pure greatness. But it's hard to prognosticate week in and week out.

This week's rankings see a couple of nice jumps for teams towards the bottom of the pack, like the suddenly resurgent 'Fins. These rankings were put together on a diet of NyQuil and the stuff Jamie Lee Curtis promotes that makes you go anywhere but out, so read with a cautious eye.

As always, let the dissension begin ...

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Green Bay got all it could handle Sunday, but once again, the Mike McCarthy- Aaron Rodgers combo can't be stopped. They "only" scored 35 points Sunday in perhaps the Packers' closest shave this season. A couple of readers were upset that I mentioned Jordy Nelson scored a lot of points for my fantasy team, Plantar Smashiitis, last week. OK, well Nelson scored a lot of fantasy points for everyone this week. He's a big-play threat who seems to come up with a big play every game.

NaVorro Bowman has had a really nice season at inside 'backer for the Niners. What a good young player coordinator Vic Fangio has developed within his defense, a unit that has been playing lights out. Meanwhile, the head man faces brother John on NFL Network on Thursday. Expect Ray Rice, who got 20 carries against the Bengals, to have some tough sledding.

Bye week, and a chance for the Steelers to get healthy … starting with linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Dick LeBeau has done a great job this year without so many of the parts he expected to have coming into the season. Here they are, ranked second in the NFL in total defense and the team tied for first place. It's the same ol' Steelers football.

Tom Brady has put on a quarterbacking clinic the past couple of weeks. The losses to the Steelers and Giants probably still stick in his craw. Despite being a celebrity, three-time Super Bowl winner, and a 12-year veteran, Brady still has the killer instinct of a guy who's not happy until he wins 43-14. Side note: a healthy Marcus Cannon made his NFL debut Monday night. The TCU product was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and got treatment over the summer. Nice to see the big guy out there on the field where he belongs.

Bye week for the Saints, one of four in Week 11. As good as New Orleans has been offensively, it would help Drew Brees, the defense, and the prospects of a deep run in the playoffs if Sean Payton developed a consistent ground attack and balance, particularly in the first half of games. The Saints only run 32 percent of the time in the first half, 31st in the NFL. Taking some of the load off your quarterback and giving the defense a longer blow is always a good thing. Don't forget how important the ground game was to the 2009 championship run.

Yet another bye week. Couldn't have come at a better time. Matt Leinart has an opportunity to get plenty of work in with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, and the starting offense. The biggest advantage Leinart has in his corner: Wade Phillips and the top-rated defense in the NFL.

Huge win at home. Those weren't the early 2000s Bengals coming to town. Perhaps more importantly, Ray Rice received 25 touches from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. That means drive-time listeners on Baltimore AM radio will get to hear something besides Cam-ripping this week. If they had lost, Cameron might have been blamed for the Colts leaving.

The injury to Jay Cutler throws everything out of whack. The Bears seemed destined to go 11-5 and be a challenger to the Packers. I'm already on the record as saying Chicago would upset Green Bay at Lambeau in Week 16. Obviously, the outlook changes for the Bears with Caleb Hanie under center. The smart thing to do in Oakland will be to hand the ball off to Matt Forte and Marion Barber 35 times. Oakland's run defense is allowing 5.16 yards per carry, 31st in the league.

Here's your stat of the week, in case you haven't heard it: The Lions became the first team since at least 1950 to win three games in a season after trailing by at least 17 points. Now, it's "1950" because you can't verify those kinds of facts further back than that due to sketchy box scores, hometown bookkeeping in the 1930s, and other Enron-esque factors. I'm pretty sure it's a record, and it says a lot about the resilience of this club. Talk about an early Christmas gift: You never hope a guy is injured, but if you're a Lions fan, Cutler's broken bone just helped your team's playoff chances.

The G-Men are 6-4, and seemingly on the periphery as one of those up-and-down teams across the league. Yet, the Giants have been in position in each of the past two weeks and just slipped at the end, offensively and defensively. Two huge issues staring this team in the face, and something I delved into last Thursday, is the lack of an effective ground game and a very difficult schedule. Of particular note is the fact that Big Blue faces the Cowboys two of the last four weeks of the season.

Another tough one for Red Dalton. There's no shame in losing to the Steelers and Ravens two weeks in a row, both one-score games. Playoff hopes are starting to dim in Cincinnati. Or are they? The Bengals still have very winnable games against the Browns (next week), Rams (Week 15), and Cardinals (Week 16.) With the Jets, Bills, and Titans all losing this past week, the possibility exists that the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals could ALL make the postseason.

Much like last Thursday, Hue Jackson is putting the game in the belly of his running backs, and the shoulders of his defense, and not on Carson Palmer. The latter had a nice game, but only threw 23 times. Expect more of the same, especially when Darren McFadden comes back. Defensively, guys made clutch plays when needed in Minnesota. Here's something for both sides of the ball: The penalty madness has to stop (12 more Sunday.)

How many Cowboys fans thought the Dan Bailey overtime kick was wide right? It sure looked like it at first watch. When those kicks are so high it's tough to tell, but hey, a division road win is a division road win. The DeMarco Murray express finally slowed down (25 carries for 73 yards), mostly due to excellent play by Washington's front seven. The key is what his presence does for the passing game. You can't stop everybody.

Matt Ryan put up 316 yards passing against a tougher-than-advertised Titans defense. More importantly, he made the clutch throw at the end of the game to secure a first down and ultimately run out the clock. The run defense was simply outstanding. Nice rebound after the heartbreaking loss to the Saints. In fact, that made 29 straight games in the Mike Smith era without suffering back-to-back losses

"Plain and simple, Mark Sanchez has to start playing smart. He's killing his football team." That's what I wrote last week, and boy is it hard to change that now. He's a decent player, but the bottom line is this: The Jets have a good defense. Denver does not win last Thursday's game without Sanchez forcing that pick-six to Andre' Goodman. It sure would aid matters if Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes could start getting some separation on routes. Joe McKnight probably should stop providing the turf with the football as well.

It was rough, but Vince Young made the throws when he had to. Give the much-maligned defense a lot of credit: They shut down the run (17 carries, 29 yards) and other than the 47-yarder to Victor Cruz, held down Eli Manning. The Giants went five of 14 on third down. Now, can Philadelphia put together six more wins to close out the season? That's what it's going to take to be relevant come January.

That Thursday night game was nothing short of ridiculous. More slow-moving, 1935 pro football from the Broncos. The best play of the first 57 minutes was the Andre' Goodman pick. That was a read, react, sprint, tap, catch the ball, run some more, bang-bang play. Then came Tebowmania. What more can you say? Handball aficionado Jake Plummer wishes Tebow wouldn't say much more. In other news, word is that Von Miller has the quickest first step since Derrick Thomas. The late Chiefs great sacked John Elway 26 times. There's a huge list of decent outside linebackers that don't have 26 sacks total.

The Titans drop two spots by virtue of losing four of their past six. Tennessee's starting quarterback is hurt, but don't worry, the Titans are still happy not to have Vince Young. They might be happier not to have CJ2Day. Enough with the negative stuff. Here's some more negative: Hasselbeck might have trouble gripping the football. But that might be not so bad, as Jake Locker acquired valuable experience Sunday in Atlanta. The kid did well, tossing two touchdowns and making things competitive in the fourth quarter.

2011 is slipping away ... fast. The Bills have been outscored 106-26 over the past three games. This was a team that was cruising along at 5-2 coming off a shutout win over the Redskins. Truly, Sunday's contest in Miami was a must-win. The Jets, Titans, and Chargers are next on the docket. Not great teams, but similarly desperate ones. If Chan Gailey's group can take two of three, then a wild-card berth is possible. But that will never happen if the rattled defense doesn't answer the bell.

Philip Rivers can't even toss a junior mint in his mouth without it getting picked off right now.

The Bucs put up a nice fight at Lambeau, but at the end of the day, the standings still read 4-6. This club only lost six games all of last season. One of the positives to come from the loss was the nice game from LeGarrette Blount, who was supposed to be Raheem Morris' version of John Riggins. Blount ran 18 times for 107 yards and a touchdown, including the biggest beast run since Marshawn Lynch's Tecmo jaunt in last year's playoffs. It's worth noting that there was even a Mike Williams sighting in the end zone, a place he hasn't been since Week 1.

The 158-minute touchdown-less streak at home ended for the Browns, thankfully. The kicking fun did not, however, as Phil Dawson missed a 38-yarder just a week after a 22-yard attempt went askew in the 13-12 loss to the Rams. What can the Browns hang their hat on following the win over the Jags? A) The young defense is holding its own, allowing just 19.3 points per game, and B) The ground attack might be coming around with Chris Ogbonnaya raising his game (115 rush yards vs. the Jaguars.)

Matt Moore, 14 of 20 for 160 yards and three touchdowns. That's EXACTLY how Tony Sparano wants to win games: Not putting the outcome solely on his quarterback's shoulders (only 20 attempts.) No matter your thoughts on the quality of the Dolphins, when a team doesn't turn the ball over, they usually win. Period. The defense forced two takeaways, and kept the slumping Ryan Fitzpatrick in check all day. What a turnaround for this group.

These power rankings have been hard on the Seahawks, but Seattle gets a sizeable boost here. The issue with this team, and why it's 24th, is the weakness at quarterback. Tarvaris Jackson threw for 148 yards and two picks in St. Louis. At some point, a team has to get solid quarterback play to be considered decent. Some of the ancillary parts on this club are doing a great job. Special teams was great vs. the Ravens, and the defense was fantastic this past week. Next up: Redskins at home. If the Seahawks are a decent team, and deserve the bump in the rankings, then they should handle the Shanahanigans.

The frustration is written all over Jack Del Rio's face, while his comments are colored with it. "It's not the first time this year we've had the opportunity. We're really looking for that breakout, game-winning drive. We had a chance for our quarterback to take us down. ( Blaine Gabbert) took us down. We were knocking on the door. We just couldn't close it out." Gabbert is a rookie, and these are the growing pains of having an inexperienced guy under center. There has been a general lack of appreciation for his play, but for the record, Cam Newton, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton didn't win their games this weekend, either. While Gabbert might not put up the numbers Newton does, he also didn't throw four picks. Sooner than later, Gabbert will make that fourth-down throw to Mike Thomas (or somebody else) to win the game.

The Chiefs have just lost too many players this season. Matt Cassel is the latest in a line of injuries, with Tyler Palko the next man up. It was hard not to root for the kid, but ultimately, he got the ball out far too slow against a depleted Patriots secondary. Along with illegal procedures and blitzes that accomplished little, Palko's slow-decision process wrote the script of a Monday night blowout.

Adrian Peterson's ankle injury, and four costly turnovers by the Vikings, made Sunday at the Metrodome another grueling spectacle to endure. Yet, give this team a little credit. The Vikes bounced back from a demoralizing loss in Green Bay to put up a fight in a game where they didn't have their best player … or Antoine Winfield for that matter. This was yet another potential victory gone awry, much like early season games vs. the Chargers, Bucs, Lions, and Chiefs. Next up are the Falcons, who are trying to keep pace in the NFC playoff race. Without Peterson, this will be a real test for Christian Ponder.

Sunday at Candlestick was a mismatch. Interestingly enough, a lot of us thought in the preseason that the Cardinals would win the NFC West with Kevin Kolb while the 49ers would be third or fourth with Alex Smith. Hardly, and much of it comes down to what each was asked to do with the supporting cast they had. While Kolb faltered, the defense and Beanie Wells haven't given any Cardinals quarterback much help. The loss to the Niners displayed that Arizona's woes shouldn't land at Kolb's feet. John Skelton was terrible, and the defense couldn't stop Smith in the third quarter. Ken Whisenhunt has to get a healthy Wells going, and provide the defense a respite from the anemic offense for this team to make any hay in the last six games.

Much like the Vikings, the Panthers have lost almost every close call they've had. The defense was a victim of general sucking Sunday. The secondary couldn't stop Matthew Stafford, who threw for 335 yards and five touchdowns. Kevin Smith -- Kevin freaking Smith -- ran for 140 yards on these guys. Smith had 19 yards rushing coming into the game. Total. Cam Newton had his moments, but his four picks sure didn't bring home the bacon, either. That's the risk of not only playing a rookie quarterback, but also letting him play somewhat wide open.

Rex Grossman made some nice throws, but then seemingly remembered he was Rex Grossman and produced his usual bevy of bad plays at the wrong time. The numbers look viable enough (25 of 38, 289 yards), but there were several key points against Dallas where he either misfired on the run to a wide open Jabar Gaffney, or took a sack when he should have thrown the ball away. Everyone on special teams not named Graham Gano kept the Redskins in the fight, but it wasn't enough.

The offensive line couldn't protect Sam Bradford, but at least made up for it by providing holes only Calista Flockhart could run through. If you remove Steven Jackson's 19-yard run, the Rams rushed 16 times for 23 yards. On third-and-1 in the first quarter, St. Louis spread out five receivers with an empty backfield. Say what? No, the Rams didn't convert.

Bye week in Indianapolis. Everyone who follows the NFL really, really missed Colts football. It's hard to find that kind of quality without going overseas.

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