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Posted: Wednesday December 3, 2008 12:31PM; Updated: Friday December 5, 2008 11:58PM
Don Banks Don Banks >

NFL Power Rankings, Week 14

Story Highlights

6 Trends: 1. Plaxico-less Giants remain at No. 1; 2. Steelers, Bucs climb into top 5

3. Ravens, Falcons rise into top 10; 4. Cardinals tumble down to No. 12

5. Chargers no longer best California team; 6. Bengals supplant Rams at No. 31

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The powers that be in the NFL office will never admit it, but the league loves a season when the New York teams are front and center. That makes 2008 a pretty good year so far for the folks in the Park Avenue headquarters, because between the Giants season-long dominance, the Jets' Brett Favre-led resurgence, and Plaxico Burress' knack for making headlines, it's been almost wall-to-wall New York, New York, this season. And we've still got two saturation-coverage-filled months to go.

And now onto Week 14's power rankings, with a get-well-soon wish to Dr. Z, our friend and usual custodian of this particular mid-week feature.... Send comments to Don Banks.

NFL Power Rankings
1New York Giants
Last Week: 1
Can they win without him? Are you kidding? It says here they might actually be better off. The champs are 3-0 without the taxing Plaxico Burress this season, with an average margin of victory in those games of 20.7 points. New York beat Washington at home in the opener by nine points, on a night when Burress caught a season-high 10 passes for 133 yards. The Giants beat Washington on the road without Burress by 16 points last week, on a day when quarterback Eli Manning had four receivers with three catches or more. Can they win without him? Yes they can.
2Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 3
After several weeks of either winning or losing with their passing game, the Titans wanted to get their run game reinvigorated against the Lions. Uh, mission accomplished. Tennessee can still run it a bit. The Titans against Detroit hung up 292 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, with both Chris Johnson and LenDale White doing major damage. If you're wondering how Tennessee jumped back ahead of the Jets, who it was thrashed by in Week 12, pop in the video of New York's meltdown at home against the impossibly inconsistent Broncos last week. These power rankings are a fluid, on-going, week-to-week referendum on the state of affairs in the NFL. Nothing static about 'em.
3Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
Every time I looked up late last Sunday afternoon from the Lambeau Field press box in which I was working, there was a Steelers linebacker -- take your pick of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior -- doing something big-playish against poor Matt Cassel of New England. Sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, you name it. Five consecutive Patriots drives ended in turnovers, and those Pittsburgh linebackers seemed to be in the middle of it all. It dawns on me that we have to start thinking of Harrison (14 sacks) as legitimate competition for Albert Haynesworth in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year race.
4Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 7
I know I'm coming late to the party, but these Bucs are pretty good. Not dominating, mind you. Just good enough to beat you, and not themselves. So good in fact that I had to bump them up three spots into the top five, a vantage point that should well prepare them for their showcase game of the season, Monday night at Carolina. With Tampa Bay in position to claim the NFC's No. 2 seed, its hopes of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field are entering the realm of realistic. Would they still get to fire those cannons after Super Bowl touchdowns, or does the premise of a neutral site win out? It's another pressing issue for Roger Goodell and his merry band of brothers to unravel.
5New York Jets
Last Week: 2
I hear ya, Jets fans. But all I should have to say to defend my dropping of the Green and White back to the No. 5 slot is this: You just got drilled at home by a team that lost 31-10 at home to the Raiders the week before. The Raiders. Of Oakland. Not the Texas Tech Red variety. So just pipe down and be happy that the embarrassing 17-point defeat didn't cost you first place in the AFC East, which you worked so hard to secure in the previous five weeks.
6Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 4
The Colts merely showed up in Cleveland and still won, but that looked suspiciously like the grasping-on-offense Indy of Weeks 1-8 to be quite honest. But no matter, it's five in a row on their way to nine in a row to end the season. Cincinnati and Detroit bring their combined 1-22-1 record to town next, and then it's a road trip to dispirited Jacksonville and a Week 17 visit from Tennessee, which won't need the game at all. That's how 3-4 becomes 12-4, and the Colts miraculously push their streak of 12-plus win seasons to six.
7Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 8
It's a big-game week in Charlotte, but I still can't get over what Panthers second-year running back DeAngelo Williams told me Sunday at Lambeau. After scoring four times on 1-yard touchdown runs, Williams said he got chills playing on the frozen tundra (which stands to reason), because he "grew up watching Brett Favre and Donald Driver and Bubba Franks." C'mon, DeAngelo. Nobody grew up watching Bubba Franks.
8New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
After winning 18 in a row last season, the Patriots longest such streak this year is two games, done twice. New England has alternated between losses and wins the past six games, a level of inconsistency that we're just not used to in Belichick-ville. With the Patriots so routinely reflecting the moods of their perfectionist head coach, I'm guessing this year's roller-coaster ride makes for a very uneasy feeling in the hallways and meeting rooms of Gillette Stadium.
9Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 12
How good must it feel for the Ravens to know they finally have a franchise quarterback? All those years making due with Scott Mitchell, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac, Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright are over, and Baltimore has Joe Flacco to build around. It's enough to make Ravens fans think Christmas came in late April this year.
10Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 13
It's December, and only three teams in the NFC own more victories than the Falcons. That's why no matter what happens the rest of the way, Atlanta's season will be remembered as one of the franchise's sweetest ever. You could make the case that the Falcons this year have the Coach of the Year (Mike Smith), the NFL Executive of the Year (general manager Thomas Dimitroff), the Offensive Rookie of the Year -- or even the MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan -- and the free-agent signee of the year (running back Michael Turner).
11Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 10
Boy, did the Cowboys luck out this week. They got to quietly slip Pacman Jones back on their 53-man roster while the entire NFL world was fixated on another suspension-happy problem child of the NFC East, Mr. Burress. It's the small favors that make life bearable at times.
12Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 9
Not quite as much Kurt Warner for MVP chatter this week, eh? Both he and my oft-mentioned choice for the award, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, had three-pick stinkers in Week 13. The Cardinals will finally clinch their division title this week at home against the sad-sack Rams, but that doesn't mean they'll be shooting up our board any time soon.
13Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 15
With so many great turnaround stories this season (the Jets, Falcons, Ravens), it's easy to lose sight of the Dolphins, who won just that one game last season. But get this: If Miami runs the table, beating the Bills in Toronto, and winning at home against San Francisco, at Kansas City and at the Jets, Tony Sparano's bunch of no-names are AFC East champions. Winning Week 17 at the Meadowlands won't be easy, but the rest of it is in no way far-fetched. Who'd a thunk it?
14Washington Redskins
Last Week: 11
This is the time of year when twice in the past three seasons the Joe Gibbs-coached Redskins have flipped a switch and saved everything with out-of-nowhere December drives to the playoffs. The script is a bit different this year. Washington still has a winning record, but it enters the month with three home losses in the past four weeks, and none of the trends look particularly promising.
15Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 17
Just when the Vikings are starting to feel good about themselves, they could potentially lose their mojo with the twin suspensions of their twin towers inside, defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams. And then there's this week's quintessential trap game: at winless Detroit. If the Lions have a shot at winning at all in 2008, it's this week against a Minnesota team that got lucky in winning 12-10 at home against Detroit in Week 6.
16Denver Broncos
Last Week: 19
I'm willing to concede that I don't have the foggiest of clues where to rank this Broncos team. As someone earlier this week noted to me, Denver may be the only team in the NFL that can both beat anyone in the league and lose to anyone, all without raising any eyebrows. To prove our point, here come the 2-10 Chiefs into Invesco Field. Kansas City throttled the Broncos 33-19 in Week 4, which in essence launched Mr. Shanahan's Wild Ride.
17New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 14
You're not supposed to use injuries as an excuse in the NFL, and no one feels sorry for you anyway. So I'm just going to say this once: Injuries had a big role in the Saints being a disappointment this season. Especially on a defense that I expected to be one of the most improved units in the league. There. I feel better.
18Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 21
I did mention last week that the given-up-for-dead Eagles were primed to lay a whipping on the first-place Cardinals. Sometimes this stuff is too easy.
19Chicago Bears
Last Week: 16
The Bears defense always seems to punish Vikings super-back Adrian Peterson, but it never really stops him. What a physical, old-style black-and-blue division game that was Sunday night in the sterile confines of the Metrodome. Thanks to the dome, there wasn't any dirt or grass stains on anyone's uniforms at game's end, but I did see more than a little blood.
20Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 18
The natives this week are howling for Dick Jauron's head, and by extension mine, because I didn't even see fit to include him on my latest Coaches on the Hot Seat rankings. All in all, seems like a good time to slip off to Toronto, wouldn't you say?
21Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 20
I still can't really believe that little Steve Smith went up and caught that ball, dooming the Packers to the defeat that will probably ensure a playoff-less January for Green Bay. How is it that Smith jumps like Randy Moss when he needs to?
22Houston Texans
Last Week: 24
Wouldn't it be something if Houston some day soon wound up with both Mario Williams and Vince Young, courtesy of a trade with the Titans? It probably would happen over Bud Adams dead body, but funny how you don't hear that debate any more. Williams is a playmaking monster coming off the edge, and Young, most of the time, sits near the edge of the Titans bench.
23San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 27
I like Mike Singletary, and I've got no reason to root against his effort to land the 49ers full-time head coaching job. But I did happen to see a story this week that detailed how many San Francisco players are supportive of his candidacy. But in all honesty, what else would you expect a current 49er to say of the guy who might be his boss for the foreseeable future?: "No way. The guy's a millstone around our necks. They've got to get a real coach in here." I think not.
24San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 22
OK, this pains me, but it has to be said: With the 49ers leap-frogging to No. 23 and San Diego dropping to No. 24, the Chargers aren't even the best team in California, let alone the AFC West (or the AFC and the NFL, as I projected them to be at the beginning of the season).
25Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 25
What an ugly, ugly scene in Cleveland this year. Players fighting with the front office. The front office fighting with fans. Fans booing an injured and previously admired quarterback as he's helped off the field. And to think that giving the Browns five prime-time games once sounded like a good idea.
26Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 23
Add the Jaguars to the list of teams just trying to get this puppy over with in 2008. Is that really a Gregg Williams-coached defense I saw giving it the old bullfighter's red cape treatment Monday night in terms of tackling? I've seen more contact in flag football.
27Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 26
The Raiders lose at home to the woeful Chiefs and still get ranked one notch ahead of Kansas City? It's probably not fair, but 3-9 with a win at Denver beats 2-10 with a win at home against Denver every time.
28Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 29
Two quick thoughts about the Arrowheads: Tyler Thigpen, funny name and all, hasn't been all that bad at quarterback. If he's not ahead of Brodie Croyle on the depth chart at the beginning of next year's training camp, the fix is in. And secondly, where in the world has rookie defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey been this season? Talk about your non-factors.
29Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 28
Remember when we thought Jim Mora would be walking into a pretty good job as the next Seahawks head coach? Upon further review, maybe not. Come to think of it, maybe Mike Holmgren knows he stayed one year too long.
30St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 31
The Rams have scored an NFC-worst 159 points, or 13.3 per game. That was a decent quarter's worth of offense in the Dick Vermeil-Mike Martz "Greatest Show on Turf" heyday. I can remember covering Rams games in the dome where I would go hit the men's room and miss two touchdowns.
31Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 30
Bengals owner Mike Brown refused to give Marvin Lewis a vote of confidence this week, because he correctly called it "the kiss of death." But to make the contention that Lewis has done "an incredibly good job" this season just smacks of sarcasm in my book. And that's uncalled for.
32Detroit Lions
Last Week: 32
Rod Marinelli told his team this week that it is absolutely not going 0-16. Complete and utter (did we mention historic?) failure is apparently not an option. Kudos to Marinelli for addressing the elephant in the room. But why did it take until December for Marinelli to even see the elephant?
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