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NFL Power Rankings, Week 14: Saints, Chiefs slide after losses

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The Broncos, Panthers, 49ers and Patriots all posted wins last week, securing their grip on the top spots in the weekly power rankings as well as the playoff standings. Meanwhile, losses by the Chiefs and Saints drop each team a few spots and expose serious questions with the postseason a month away.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Last week removed any questions about which teams were the best in the AFC and the NFC. Peyton Manning and the Broncos picked apart the Chiefs defense just as Alex Smith and the offense were finding their groove. On Monday, the Seahawks, without Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner, stomped the Saints and held Drew Brees to just 147 passing yards.

The scramble for the other five playoff spots in each conference continued, and so did positioning for prime spots in the 2014 NFL Draft. The top two spots this week are unchanged, but there was plenty of movement down the order over last week's rankings.

1. Seattle Seahawks

If Drew Brees plays until he's 45, he might not have another game that bad. The three remaining clean-peeing members of the Legion of Boom got down and dirty against the Saints, teaming with a ferocious pass rush and tremendous linebacker coverage to thwart New Orleans at every turn in the season's most dominant defensive display. Not to be outdone, Russell Wilson turned in a virtuoso performance. His pocket presence embodies John Wooden's old "Be quick, but don't hurry" mantra as well as any NBA'er ever has. It's looking extremely unlikely that anyone but Seattle will lay claim to the NFC's #1 seed - and just as unlikely that anyone can make a playoff trip to the Clink and come out a winner. (Last Week: 1)

2. Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning was cool and efficient in a warmer stadium, spinning his Big Wheel O' Weapons and settling on Eric Decker. Decker hazed rookie corner Marcus Cooper, and the Chiefs safeties were hamstrung by the Broncos' multiple targets and Manning's Hall of Fame eye discipline. Denver's pass defense can be exploited, but few teams can exploit it well enough to keep up with Manning. (Last Week: 2)

3. Carolina Panthers

After stumbling past the Dolphins last week, Carolina showed some more consistent focus in methodically crushing the life from the Buccaneers. This team is starting to feel a lot like the 1999 Tennessee Titans squad that made it to the Super Bowl. The offense isn’t explosive, exactly, but keeping them from gaining ten yards in three downs is easier said than done.  Like those Titans, the Panthers defense is tough, stingy and mistake-free. It remains to be seen if Cam Newton can keep playing Steve McNair AND Eddie George against playoff-caliber competition, but if he’s up to the challenge the Panthers have the physicality to deploy the Jets and Seahawks beat-em-up tactics against the Saints and capture a first-round bye. (Last Week: 4)

4. New England Patriots

They made things a lot more interesting than their fans would have liked, but the Pats finally dispatched Houston to move to 9-3 and keep a leg up on the competition for the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Gronk as Goliath, Julian Edelman as gadfly and Shane Vereen as an Aaron Hernandez-style mismatch generator is a combination that could keep clicking for Tom Brady. The defense may just have to endure 100-yard rushers from here on in, but if Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are healthy come playoff time then the Pats could make a deep run. (Last Week: 5)

5. San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco returned the Rams to a familiar place - the NFC West cellar - while welcoming back a familiar face in Michael Crabtree. Crabtree looked to have a hitch in his gitalong - inevitable for a guy barely six months out from Achilles surgery - but he's already a massive upgrade over anything else the Niners have trotted out alongside Boldin and Davis.  They may still be one weapon short of matching up with the Seahawks, but if the L.O.B. gets caught with any more P.E.D.s things could get very interesting. (Last Week: 9)

6. New Orleans Saints

For all their achievements on both sides of the ball this season, the questions continue to mount regarding the Saint's Super Bowl bona fides. Questions whether they can turn in a road performance that even approaches their work in the friendly confines of the Superdome. Questions about whether they can consistently stand up to physical punishment. And real questions about whether they can do both at the same time - questions which will loom large in their Week 16 trip to Carolina and even larger should their playoff path bring them back to CenturyLink Field. (Last Week: 3)

7. Cincinnati Bengals

The Chargers' defense has been exploited so often that it has its own human rights case worker, but Andy Dalton - his October hot streak a distant memory - could get nothing going for most of the day. Dalton nearly hospitalized AJ Green with one throw before finally finding him hilariously uncovered in the end zone. Fortunately for the Bengals, their own D is made of sterner stuff and was able to stymie Philip Rivers and his precision passing game. The Bengals' ascent to 8-4 without Geno Atkins and Leon Hall - and with Dalton - is a testament to a really stacked roster. (Last Week: 6)

8. Detroit Lions

After a couple of foible-filled weeks, the Lions finally got the win that should let them breathe easy in the NFC North. Reggie Bush atoned for an early fumble to absolutely torch the Packers for 172 combined yards, and Matt Stafford hit the usual suspects (Bush, Megatron) and some extremely unusual suspects (Kevin Ogletree?  Jeremy Ross????) en route to a Fantasy-friendly 330 yard, 3 TD day. The Lions' defensive front hasn't posted gaudy sack numbers, but they've been stout against the run and can absolutely massacre a subpar OL. So, if you're a member of a subpar OL, take a lesson from Josh Sitton and don't spend all game week poking them with a stick. (Last Week: 10)

9. Kansas City Chiefs

After more than half a season of dinking and dunking, the Chiefs have finally opened up their passing attack. Unfortunately it's been out of necessity, as they've suddenly lost their ability to shut down opposing passing attacks. Sean Smith, Marcus Cooper and even Brandon Flowers took turns getting torched, and it's becoming less certain that they can thrive in the absence of an A+ pass rush.  Hurry back, Justin Houston. (Last Week: 5)

10. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinal Crescendo jangled into discord against the Eagles. The duct-tape-and-bailing-wire offensive line finally gave out against Brandon Graham and Trent Cole, and it didn’t help that Carson Palmer decided to impersonate Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds on a couple of deep balls to wide open receivers. It wasn’t a terrible loss from the standpoint of opponent quality, but any loss is extremely damaging given the Wild Card pace being set by the 49ers/Saints/Panthers troika. Anything short of a 3-1 finish with a win over San Francisco could leave the Cards with little to show for their surprising season. (Last Week: 8)

11. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts flirted with division-race disaster against the Titans before finally accepting Ryan Fitzpatrick's unrelenting efforts to give them the game. Kudos to Pep Hamilton for his willingness to take Da'Rick Rodgers out for a spin and bench the egregiously bad Trent Richardson in search of an offensive spark. It may take more creativity than he's shown so far, however, to get Andrew Luck out from under siege and get the Colts' O punching above its weight as it did against Seattle and San Francisco. (Last Week: 11)

12. Philadelphia Eagles

Even a hot rod engine needs spark plugs, and Nick Foles has provided the spark to get Chip Kelly’s bunch peaking at the right time with their most impressive win of the season. Despite DeSean Jackson languishing in Peterson Penitentiary, Foles was able to make enough money with the Tighty Whitey air attack (TE’s Zach Ertz and Brent Celek along with WR Riley Cooper) to generate a sparkling 3-TD performance against one of the league’s best pass defenses. Matt Stafford and company will provide a tough test for a questionable secondary, but it’s looking more and more likely that the miraculous could happen – TWO teams in the NFC East could finish over .500! (Last Week: 14)

13. Baltimore Ravens

They won it by a fingernail – or maybe a toenail, when you consider Justin Tucker’s five field goals – but the Ravens came out on top of their latest black-and-blue brawl with Pittsburgh. As of now they’re your sixth seed in the AFC, but they’ll need to negotiate a tough closing slate (home against Minnesota and New England, on the road against Detroit and Cincinnati) to lock down a playoff berth. Any hopes for playoff success center on defense and Joe Flacco playing over his head for another four game stretch – though as depleted as the Ravens’ offense is this season, Flacco would have to play far enough over his head to interrupt filming on Gravity II. (Last Week: 12)

14. Dallas Cowboys

Jason Garrett’s collar was as tight as Jerry Jones’ new face when Dallas got down 21-7 to the Raiders on Thanksgiving. But short yardage and goal line blocking not seen in Dallas since the Bush Administration paved the way for three DeMarco Murray scores while Tony Romo – whose accuracy has been quietly slipping since Dallas’ shootout with Denver – got just enough out of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to spark the passing game. Get ready for 180 rushing yards from DeMarco Murray and 400 passing yards from either Cutler or McCown as two of the league’s least competent defenses square off next Monday night. (Last Week: 15)

15. Miami Dolphins

Even Grandma is going to lay patch sooner or later if she drives a 911 Twin Turbo to bridge club, and even the wildly overmatched Philbin/Sherman brain trust can finally surrender to temptation and actually utilize their $60 million wide receiver. Mike Wallace responded with another strong showing, Brian Hartline clowned Dee Milliner for his annual fantasy waiver wire tease game, and Lamar Miller turned in 77 hard-earned yards against the Jets robust run D. Miami’s post-season chances are hindered by their October loss to the 6-6 Ravens, but three winnable games (at PIT and BUF, home against the Jets) in their last four could see Jeff Ireland’s offseason spending spree pay off with a playoff berth. (Last Week: 16)

16. San Diego Chargers

Coming off an absolute torching of the Chiefs, Philip Rivers and company endured much tougher sledding against the Cincinnati defense. Gross throws from Andy Dalton kept them in the game, but eventually a secondary like San Diego’s is going to fail against even a mediocre QB. Sitting just a game behind flawed Miami and Baltimore squads, the nail isn’t in the coffin for the Chargers’ playoff hopes. But the priest is definitely moving to the bedside. (Last Week: 13)

17. New York Giants

While the Manning Malaise continues to linger, a couple of formerly MIA performers in Andre Brown (injured) and Brandon Myers (terrible) helped Victor Cruz and Boris Karloff Peyton Hillis get past the Redskins. Justin Tuck finally looked like the Justin Tuck of old as opposed to just old Justin Tuck, bagging a semi-recovered RGIII four times. That kind of performance used to herald a second-half surge, but the hole is likely too deep for even a patented Tom Coughlin cavalry charge to overcome. (Last Week: 22)

18. Chicago Bears

Somewhere, Robbie Gould is giving the Crimson Tide’s place kicker a pep talk. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Gould’s bricked 47-yarder in OT gave Adrian Peterson one more chance to savage the Bears’ hideous run defense, and he was happy to oblige with 30 yards in the answering drive that set up a Blair Walsh game-winner. Chicago wasted a monster game from Alshon Jefferey, who took advantage of the fact that Minnesota’s one competent secondary member was on Brandon Marshall to run wild for 240 yards and a pair of scores. It’s shootouts from here on in for Chicago, and come Monday Jay Cutler will have the chance to equal Josh McCown’s torrid November while the Bears defenders continue to make Dick Butkus weep. (Last Week: 18)

19. St. Louis Rams

The Rams are a scrappy bunch, and they were able to stand in and trade body blows with the 49ers. When it came time to go up top, however, the Rams found themselves overmatched. Kellen Clemens was high, low and wild for much of the day while the Rams' continued struggles in the secondary translated into Colin Kaepernick's second-best  passing day of the season. The Rams will play out the string while looking forward to 2014 - and two first round choices in the 2014 draft. One of those picks could be well used on a cornerback, while a deep QB draft could lead to some front-office soul searching on Sam Bradford's future. (Last Week: 17)

20. Pittsburgh Steelers

Every underdog hopes to trip up a rival that’s ahead of them in the division standings, but most of them don’t attempt it quite so literally. Mike Tomlin’s sideline shenanigans stole focus from a hard-fought effort from the undermanned Steelers that was fingertips away from going to overtime. They’re fading from this year’s playoff picture, but Ben Roethlisberger looks capable of quarterbacking a contender for a couple more seasons. If that contender is going to be the Steelers, there’s plenty of work to be done along both sides of the line of scrimmage while also refitting a graybeard secondary. (Last Week: 20)

21. Tennessee Titans

Tennessee took the Colts down to the wire in a valiant bid to make things interesting in the AFC South, but came up just short as the post-contract extension Bills version of Ryan Fitzpatrick finally showed up and flooded the field with turnovers. Tennessee has some building blocks on offense - and, surprisingly, it's looked like Chris Johnson could still be one of them - but the front office needs to ask some tough questions about the team's ceiling with its current crop of QBs. (Last Week: 19)

22. Cleveland Browns

A talent like Josh Gordon can cover a multitude of sins, but Brandon Weeden still manages to commit a few sins too many. Slashing his defense's throat with a trio of turnovers, Weeden helped tee his team up for defeat despite a gaudy stat line. Another team sporting multiple first-round selections next May, the Browns will be well served to move on from their OTHER huge mistake of the 2012 draft. (Last Week: 21)

23. Oakland Raiders

Unstoppable. Unparalleled. Undrafted. The soon-to-be-legendary Matt McGloin-Andre Holmes connection looked ready to treat Dallas to a Thanksgiving out of Eli Roth’s worst nightmares. Oakland couldn’t seal the deal in the second half, and now gears up to face a ferocious Jets run that could place porcelain power back Darren McFadden back on the shelf in a bunch of little pieces. The Raiders hilariously carry a major QB edge into the matchup, however, so look for Oakland to keep beating expectations with their fifth win of the season. (Last Week: 26)

24. Minnesota Vikings

The Christian Ponder Hunt n' Peck Passing Experience was operating close to its theoretical maximum efficiency, AP turned in some 2012-caliber running and the defensive line had one of its best games of the season. All that still wasn't enough, though, to keep a 16-point lead from devolving into a sister-kisser with the Packers. Not the Aaron Rodgers Packers -- the Matt Flynn Packers. Some stretch-run frisk from Ponder and the team's defensive woes could exert a Siren- like temptation on the Vikings' front office to do something besides "grab the best QB available" with their first-round pick. Minnesota fans should melt their own wax if need be and jam it in the GM's ears to block out this temptation and keep the Vikings' longship out of the shoals. Ponder ain't gonna cut it. (Last Week: 29)

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It was a magical run – or, given Greg Schiano’s involvement, a magical galley cruise powered by a ruthless hortator and a cat o’ nine tails – but the Bucs’ three game win streak came to a crashing halt against the Panthers. Outside of a few scatty scampers from Bobby Rainey and a Vincent Jackson deep ball, the Tampa offense was punchless while the defense got battered into submission. Tampa fans thinking about 2014 and beyond may have breathed a sigh of relief, though, as the end of Tampa's flirtation with competence should spell the end for Schiano. (Last Week: 24)

26. Atlanta Falcons

Roddy White reminded everyone that he’s not dead yet, and the Falcons helped to remind the fine folks of Toronto just what they could be getting into if they nab the Bills from Buffalo. Atlanta benefitted from the hot-potato act put on by the Bills’ wideouts, but the game was a welcome reminder of the heat that Matt Ryan can generate when he’s got some upper-echelon targets to throw to. (Last Week: 30)

27. Buffalo Bills

Last week, we opined that 650 yards from scrimmage over the last five games would be the perfect gift for C.J. Spiller to give to his already-eliminated Fantasy owners. Spiller got 157 of them out of the way last Sunday, smoking Atlanta on a fast Toronto track while Fred Jackson hammered the Falcons between the tackles. Unfortunately for the Bills, their receivers were also in a giving (read: fumbling) mood, and that largesse combined with some questionable dealing from E.J. Manuel helped the Falcons stick around and eventually win in overtime. While the 2013 Bills aren’t all they were cracked up to be, with Spiller providing explosiveness they could serve as a stretch-run spoiler. BONUS: In honor of the game’s Toronto venue, the preceding paragraph contains several Rob Ford jokes. Can YOU find them all? (Last Week: 23)

28. New York Jets

Facing an ostensibly beatable AFC East rival, the Jets were soundly thrashed in a debacle that poured cold water on their playoff hopes while turning up the heat on Rex Ryan’s seat. The Jets’ .413 winning percentage is due in no small part to their dubious .333 batting average in the first round of the 2013 Draft. They failed to apply the Saban Shuffle Discount to corner Dee Milliner, who suffers weekly benchings as he tries to rebuild his footwork from scratch a la Cincy’s Dre Kirkpatrick. They also failed to apply the Flamed Out Massively In His Senior Season Discount to QB Geno Smith, who is hopefully at least building some rapport with Milliner during their shared pine time. (Last Week: 27)

29. Washington Redskins

Washington roared out of the gate and then collapsed in a heap against the Giants. Robert Griffin III showed flashes of his old self as the Redskins' offense landed a flurry of up-tempo blows. Despite 88 rushing yards, he showed too many flashes of his 2013 self as he sailed throws and got hauled down by guys with jersey numbers in the 90's. From this point forward, it's about continuing the RGIII rebuild and finding out who will fit on the team in 2014. If Redskins fans are lucky, the answer won't include too many defenders outside of Kerrigan and Orakpo. (Last Week: 28)

30. Green Bay Packers

Beware the Monkey’s Paw, for its wishes bring naught but sorrow in the end. Matt Flynn used his first wish to conjure an absolute mirage of a performance against the Lions in Week 17 of 2011, and his second and third wishes to bamboozle the Seahawks and Raiders into signing him to starter’s deals. The last two wishes soured when he was beaten out in training camp, and the first turned sour as the Lions returned to unleash an unholy vengeance. The rest of the monkey with its throwing hand chopped off would have fared better at quarterback than Flynn did on Thursday. He did enough damage to Green Bay’s playoff chances that Aaron Rodgers may just stay on the shelf through season’s end. (Last Week: 23)

31. Jacksonville Jaguars

Break up the Jags! Winners of three of their last four, Jacksonville has suddenly started providing a reasonable facsimile of an NFL team. The Jags’ young secondary turned in another credible showing, while Chad Henne took advantage of short fields and played largely mistake-free ball. It was a testament to how similar Teams 13-32 are in the modern NFL outside of extraordinary circumstances like quitting on your coach or employing Brandon Weeden at QB. (Last Week: 31)

32. Houston Texans

Coming off an utterly lifeless effort against Jacksonville, the Texans made a fight of it against likely #2 seed New England behind a running-for-the-money performance from Ben Tate and 112 yards from the always money Andre Johnson. It’s far too easy for opposing passers to make money against Houston’s linebackers and safeties, however, especially when Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus end up with empty pockets after four quarters of lackluster pass rushing. (Last Week: 32)

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