Week 12 of the NFL season is in the books. The Patriots won their seventh straight game and ascend to the top spot in our power rankings with a convincing win over the previously sixth-ranked Lions. New England has outscored opponents 277-134 during its win streak -- an average score of 39.5-19 -- and is firing on all cylinders as the season heads into its final five weeks. Not surprisingly, the Pats' offensive outburst coincides nicely with Rob Gronkowski's return to full participation in the offense, and Tom Brady is on an absolute tear since Gronk got healthy. During the win streak, Brady has completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,207 yards (315 per game), with 22 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Pretty good, I guess.
Speaking of pretty good, let me tell you about a guy named Aaron Rodgers. He plays quarterback for the Packers. These Packers (who sit at No. 2 in our rankings this week, their highest spot this season) have won seven of their last eight games and Mr. Rodgers has completed 68 percent of his passes during that stretch, throwing for 2,260 yards (282.5 per game) at 9.42 yards per attempt. He's racked up 25 touchdown passes with just a paltry two interceptions in that time. Even the people who say stats are for losers would like these stats.
Coming in just behind the Packers in our rankings are the Eagles and Broncos. Both rebounded from losses this week to get back on the winning track. Philly routed the Titans as Mark Sanchez got his third straight 300+ yard passing game, but the Eagles' new quarterback is still working out some of the kinks. Sanchez turned the ball over two more times and faced some heat from the media in Philly as the Eagles prepare to face off against the division rival Dallas Cowboys. This one was a game the Eagles had to have after last week's embarrassing blowout to Green Bay, and they dispatched Tennessee with authority. That Packers game not withstanding, Philly is explosive on offense, has an underrated defense and has managed to make game-changing plays on special teams. The Eagles remain dangerous.
Meanwhile, the Broncos staged a fourth-quarter comeback to survive a quality Miami team at home, moving to 8-3 and still in control of the AFC West. It wasn't too long ago that I considered Denver to be the best team in the NFL by a wide margin, but over the last month, that air of invincibility has been taken down a few notches with the lack of pass protection and the lack of a run game. These two facets returned this week. The Broncos sit at No. 4 in our rankings through 12 weeks.
The Cardinals fall from their perch at the top spot after being thoroughly dominated by the Seahawks. Arizona could only muster 204 yards of offense. While the defense remains among the league's best, you have to worry that Drew Stanton can't lead the Cardinals to the promised land. Arizona's 9-2 record is no fluke, but as we go down the home stretch of the season, even a Bruce Arians-coached team needs better than 50 percent passing from the quarterback.
Sitting at No. 6 are the Cowboys, who returned off of a bye week and played the brand of football that now has them at 8-3 this season. They combined a smashmouth run game with an explosive passing attack to knock off the pesky Giants (who were aided by Odell Beckham Jr.'s absurdly awesome catch) in the Meadowlands. As long as Tony Romo's back is healthy, the Cowboys remain a contender.
Parity still rules
Nine teams are 7-4 right now. The Colts, Chiefs, Seahawks, Ravens, Steelers, Niners, Lions, Browns and Chargers all feel about 7-4 too, don't they? The Bengals are 7-3-1 so technically they don't count in this, but they feel about 7-4 as well. Going down that line, you've got quality teams with strong suits, but at the same time, each one has a few concerns.
The Colts have Andrew Luck, but they also have that defense. The Chiefs have that defense, but questions about that passing game remain. The Seahawks' Legion of Boom is finally looking like the group that won a Super Bowl last year, but Seattle's passing game under Russell Wilson is still a huge question mark. The Ravens, Steelers, Browns and Bengals are all inconsistent and weird week to week. The AFC North is really weird, just in general. There's never been a division where every team is three games over .500 this late in the season before.
The Niners are great on defense but their offense has been in a rut. The Chargers are banged up, and while they've been magnificent at times this year, they too are inconsistent. The Lions haven't scored a touchdown in two games. This is a huge red flag.
Bottom line -- all of these 7-4 teams (and the Bengals) are talented, and if any of them catch fire, could legitimately grab a playoff berth then make some noise. Any one of them could totally flop too which wouldn't surprise me.
SB Nation's Gift Guide
It was difficult for me to put the Dolphins at 16 even after a loss because I think they're a better team than their record would suggest. Their defense will make them a huge nuisance down the stretch. They're the exact type of team no one wants to play late in the year. They've got two against the Jets, and face off against the Patriots, Ravens and Vikings, so would it surprise anyone to see Miami somewhere around the 10-win range? Maybe better? Look out for the Dolphins.
Elsewhere in the AFC East, Buffalo is a similar story. A tough, physical defense that can constantly harass the quarterback can be a game changer and the Bills have that. Facing the Browns, Broncos, Packers, Raiders and Patriots down the stretch, they'll be a fun team to keep an eye on the next month.
I can't sign off without talking about the NFC South. Despite themselves, someone in that division is legally required to play in the postseason, and at 4-7, the Saints and Falcons are currently in the pole position. That said, even the Buccaneers, who are 2-9 and 29th in our power rankings, are only two games out of first place. It's going to be a wild finish there with Carolina still vying for a spot as well.
I'm personally holding out hope that the Seahawks will grab a wild card spot and have to head to New Orleans to play a 7-9 (or worse) division-winning Saints team -- an ironic role reversal of the 2010 season, when a 7-9 Seahawks team won the NFC West and hosted the defending Super Bowl champion Saints ... and beat them. That would be a fun storyline, but anything can happen. Regardless, things are getting really interesting.
Here are your power rankings for Week 13:
|1||New England Patriots, 9-2 (Last Week: 2)||Pats Pulpit|
|2||Green Bay Packers, 8-3 (Last Week: 3)||Acme Packing Company|
|3||Philadelphia Eagles, 8-3 (Last Week: 7)||Bleeding Green Nation|
|4||Denver Broncos, 8-3 (Last Week: 5)||Mile High Report|
|5||Arizona Cardinals, 9-2 (Last Week: 1)||Revenge of the Birds|
|6||Dallas Cowboys, 8-3 (Last Week: 8)||Blogging the Boys|
|7||Indianapolis Colts, 7-4 (Last Week: 9)||Stampede Blue|
|8||Kansas City Chiefs, 7-4 (Last Week: 4)||Arrowhead Pride|
|9||Seattle Seahawks, 7-4 (Last Week: 13)||Field Gulls|
|10||Cincinnati Bengals, 7-3-1 (Last Week: 10)||Cincy Jungle|
|11||Baltimore Ravens, 7-4 (Last Week: 12)||Baltimore Beatdown|
|12||Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-4 (Last Week: 11)||Behind the Steel Curtain|
|13||San Francisco 49ers, 7-4 (Last Week: 14)||Niners Nation|
|14||Detroit Lions, 7-4 (Last Week: 6)||Pride of Detroit|
|15||San Diego Chargers. 7-4 (Last Week: 16)||Bolts from the Blue|
|16||Miami Dolphins, 6-5 (Last Week: 15)||The Phinsider|
|17||Cleveland Browns, 7-4 (Last Week: 17)||Dawgs by Nature|
|18||Buffalo Bills, 6-5 (Last Week: 20)||Buffalo Rumblings|
|19||St. Louis Rams, 4-7 (Last Week: 18)||Turf Show Times|
|20||Houston Texans, 5-6 (Last Week: 19)||Battle Red Blog|
|21||Chicago Bears, 5-6 (Last Week: 24)||Windy City Gridiron|
|22||Minnesota Vikings, 4-7 (Last Week: 23)||Daily Norseman|
|23||New Orleans Saints, 4-7 (Last Week: 22)||Canal Street Chronicles|
|24||Atlanta Falcons, 4-7 (Last Week: 21)||The Falcoholic|
|25||Washington, 3-8 (Last Week: 29)||Hogs Haven|
|26||Carolina Panthers, 3-7-1 (Last Week: 28)||Cat Scratch Reader|
|27||New York Giants, 3-8 (Last Week: 27)||Big Blue View|
|28||New York Jets, 2-9 (Last Week: 25)||Gang Green Nation|
|29||Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2-9 (Last Week: 26)||Bucs Nation|
|30||Tennessee Titans, 2-9 (Last Week: 30)||Music City Miracles|
|31||Oakland Raiders, 1-10 (Last Week: 32)||Silver and Black Pride|
|32||Jacksonville Jaguars, 1-10 (Last Week: 31)||Big Cat Country|