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NFL power rankings, Week 14: Packers are No. 1

Green Bay moves into the top spot this week after an impressive win over the Patriots. But the real story is the logjam of 7-5 teams clogging up the middle of the rankings and complicating the playoff race.

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The Green Bay Packers are the best team in the NFL ... for this week anyway. Was their 26-21 win over the New England Patriots a Super Bowl preview? Sure, I mean, it could be. Just like the game between the Packers and the Falcons next Monday could also be an NFC Championship preview. Likely? No. Possible? Yes. The NFL is always in a flux from week to week, which is a fine way to introduce the latest and greatest power rankings that now have the Packers arbitrarily positioned in the top spot.

With the weekly "any given Sunday" lecture out of the way, it's now safe to say that the Packers have a pretty convincing argument as the NFL's best team. At 9-3, they're tied with the Eagles (who Green Bay beat two weeks ago) and the Cardinals (sinking fast after a loss to the Falcons) in the NFC. It's four wins in a row for Green Bay, and the only blemish on its record since the end of September is a Week 8 loss to the Saints. And the best news of all for the Packers is that their last four games are against the Falcons, Bills, Buccaneers and Lions.

The Patriots are still pretty good too and still have a leg up in the race for the AFC's top seed thanks to their win against the Broncos a month ago. Tom Brady's connection with Rob Gronkowski was as strong as ever against the Packers -- the uber bro caught seven passes for 98 yards. Had Gronk been able to hold on to a would-be touchdown pass on second-and-9 with 3:31 left in the game, we might be talking about a completely different arrangement at the top of the rankings this week.

Philadelphia's outstanding special teams play continued this week. This time the hero was rookie kicker Cody Parkey, who made all four of his field goal attempts in a Thanksgiving Day win against the Cowboys. Parkey now leads the NFL with 27 field goals. The big story for the Eagles this time wasn't the competent play from Mark Sanchez, but LeSean McCoy picking up where he left off last week. Shady's 159 rushing yards were a season high and his 6.4 yards per attempt was his second-best effort this year. The Eagles aren't just winning games this year, they're blowing the doors off opponents. Of Philadelphia's nine wins, only three of those games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Denver regains some ground this week after a convincing win against the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Broncos are now 6-0 against the Chiefs since signing Peyton Manning in 2012. But enough about Manning; the star of the show was C.J. Anderson who had 168 rushing yards, the second week in a row he's topped the 160-yard mark. Denver can do many wonderful things with Manning at the helm, but it's fair to wonder if it can win a Super Bowl without Anderson or some semblance of a running game.

Next week, I suspect we'll be talking about the Seahawks ascending toward the top of the power rankings. Seattle's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in two weeks. Its last two opponents -- the Cardinals and 49ers -- scored a combined six points. So, yeah, the Seahawks are out of whatever funk it was we were gossiping about six weeks ago. Their upcoming game against the Eagles should be a lot of fun.

Tier two

There's no shame in losing to the Seahawks at home. On the other hand, losing to the Falcons and one of the league's worst pass defenses raises a big red flag about the Cardinals. So much for Bruce Arians' assertion he could win a Super Bowl with Drew Stanton. Meanwhile, the Colts rolled up another big win against an inferior opponent. They might be the least impressive eight-win team if it weren't for the Cincinnati Bengals. Bad Andy Dalton was back this week, and he nearly cost his team a win against the Buccaneers, if not for Marvin Lewis' illegal challenge flag.

Another team mired in the late-season doldrums is the Cowboys. Tony Romo might need another of whatever it is Dr. Jerry's been giving him for his injured back (something that I'm sure will have no long-term health consequences, besides, flags fly forever or something like that). The game this week against the Bears is no gimme, but the real test for Romo and company is a Week 15 trip to Philadelphia.

The Lions are scoring touchdowns again, which is nice. Despite ugly losses to the Cardinals and Patriots, Detroit is still beating inferior competition. That should serve the Lions well with three of their last four against the Bucs, Vikings and Bears. The Chargers have a similar vibe as the Lions, their fellow 8-4 team. Philip Rivers threw three touchdowns and one interception in a narrow win against the Ravens, bringing his total against Baltimore to 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in six career games.

The 7-5 bubble

There are now 18 teams with at least seven wins, after the Bills and Dolphins joined that group this week. That's a record. But before you get too excited about all the winning everyone's doing, remember that some of these teams are going to be 8-8 or even 7-9 when the season ends. Of the seven teams with seven wins right now, six are in the AFC, which should make for an exciting wild card race during the last four weeks.

Miami looks like the best, or at least the most complete, team stuck with the rest in the fat part of the curve. Comeback wins are usually impressive, but comeback wins against the Jets are much less so. With the Bills at 7-5 too, the race for second place in the AFC East is finally interesting.

Kansas City is probably next in line here. The Chiefs still don't have a wide receiver with a receiving touchdown. If they're ever going to beat the Broncos, they're going to need more than just Jamaal Charles doing the heavy lifting.

NFL playoff picture 2014

San Francisco's offense is still in the midst of an existential crisis. It may just be a down year, but Colin Kaepernick hasn't taken that next step as a passer or lived up to the expectations that came with his new contract. It's a shame the 49ers' offense can't figure it out, because the defense is playing lights-out football.

The most disappointing teams in this bunch are clustered in the AFC North. The Steelers tied an NFL record for first downs in a losing effort with 36 against the Saints. This is a team that has losses to the Bucs and Jets. Baltimore blew a 10-point lead and gave up 21 in the fourth quarter in a 34-33 loss to the Chargers. The Browns have dropped two of their last three, signaling that the feel-good hit of the fall might have reached its terminus ... unless Johnny Manziel can do something about it.

Houston's another team that belongs in this cluster. The Texans have some real strengths, but are lacking in a key area: quarterback, in this case.

About the NFC South

It's rare that an entire division deserves its own special place in the discussion of the league's worst teams. The Panthers and Buccaneers are falling out of the playoff picture. Tampa has an excuse because this is only year one for Lovie Smith. Carolina's been hit hard by injuries, but three wins and a thrashing by the Vikings is a bigger fall than anyone could have reasonably anticipated.

Atlanta actually looked pretty good beating the Cardinals this week. That's not an easy win. The Falcons are 4-0 in the division with a leg up on the Saints. The two teams will meet in New Orleans in Week 16. If there's any sense of humor left in the cosmos, the Falcons will finish the season 7-9 (or even 6-10), win the division, get a home playoff game, get hot at the right time and go all the way to the Super Bowl.

Bottom of the pile

The Jaguars got a nice win this week, the largest comeback victory in franchise history. They beat the Giants, who might have taken the title of saddest New York team from the Jets, which is no small accomplishment. Oakland followed up its upset over Kansas City in the most Raiders way possible: a 52-0 loss to the Rams. Speaking of the Rams, it looks like Jeff Fisher has his team back on track and headed to another 7-9 or maybe even 8-8 finish, which tells you all you need to know about how the most mediocre coach in NFL history has managed to hold a head coaching job for 20 seasons.

(Don't worry. Danny Kelly will be back on the power rankings beat next week. We're contractually obligated to let him out of the small room where we make him watch film 22 hours a day for one week in the fall and spring. Come on, people, we're not the Buccaneers when it comes to labor policy.)



Team blog


Green Bay Packers, 9-3 (last week: 2)

Acme Packing Company


Philadelphia Eagles, 9-3 (last week: 3)

Bleeding Green Nation


Denver Broncos, 9-3 (last week: 4)

Mile High Report


New England Patriots, 9-3 (last week: 1)

Pats Pulpit


Seattle Seahawks, 8-4 (last week: 9)

Field Gulls


Indianapolis Colts, 8-4 (last week: 7)

Stampede Blue


Arizona Cardinals, 9-3 (last week: 5)

Revenge of the Birds


Cincinnati Bengals, 8-3-1 (Last week: 10)

Cincy Jungle


San Diego Chargers, 8-4 (Last week: 15)

Bolts from the Blue


Dallas Cowboys, 8-4 (last week: 6)

Blogging the Boys


Detroit Lions, 8-4 (Last week: 14)

Pride of Detroit


Kansas City Chiefs, 7-5 (Last week: 8)

Arrowhead Pride


Miami Dolphins, 7-5 (Last week: 16)

The Phinsider


Baltimore Ravens, 7-5 (Last week: 11)

Baltimore Beatdown


Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-5 (Last week: 12)

Behind the Steel Curtain


San Francisco 49ers, 7-5 (Last week: 13)

Niners Nation


Buffalo Bills, 7-5 (Last week: 18)

Buffalo Rumblings


Houston Texans, 6-6 (Last week: 20)

Battle Red Blog


Cleveland Browns, 7-5 (Last week: 17)

Dawgs by Nature


St. Louis Rams, 5-7 (Last week: 19)

Turf Show Times


Minnesota Vikings, 5-7 (Last week: 22)

Daily Norseman


Atlanta Falcons, 5-7 (Last week: 24)

The Falcoholic


New Orleans Saints, 5-7 (Last week: 23)

Canal Street Chronicles


Chicago Bears, 5-7 (Last week: 21)

Windy City Gridiron


Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2-10 (last week: 29)

Bucs Nation


Washington, 3-9 (last week: 25)

Hogs Haven


Carolina Panthers, 3-8-1 (last week: 26)

Cat Scratch Reader


Jacksonville Jaguars, 2-10 (last week: 32)

Big Cat Country


New York Jets, 2-10 (last week: 28)

Gang Green Nation


New York Giants, 3-9 (last week: 27)

Big Blue View


Tennessee Titans, 2-10 (last week: 30)

Music City Miracles


Oakland Raiders, 1-11 (last week: 31)

Silver and Black Pride