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Posted: Wednesday December 10, 2008 12:48PM; Updated: Wednesday December 10, 2008 4:10PM
Don Banks Don Banks >

NFL Power Rankings, Week 15

Story Highlights

6 Trends: 1. Titans supplant Giants atop list; 2. Panthers rise into top five

3. Jets drop three spots -- again -- to No. 8; 4. Dolphins crack the top 10

5. Eagles are biggest mover, rising six spots; 6. Redskins, Cowboys fall five each

I'm not an odds-maker, but somebody ought to try and compute the likelihood of the NFL having its first 16-0 team and its first 0-16 team, in consecutive seasons. Maybe it's global warming, but things do seem to go to the extremes of late, be it in New England or Detroit.

For my money, the Lions' run at perfection is getting vastly underplayed. I'm not saying it's as hard to go winless as it is undefeated in the NFL, but it's close in the parity-loving league Roger Goodell presides over.

Like the Patriots last year, I think Detroit's going to make it through the regular season without a slip-up (meaning a success in this case). And that makes Caleb Campbell the big winner. The seventh-round pick out of Army was this close to being a 2008 Detroit Lion, but fate intervened and he got to stay in the military instead. Lucky guy. (Send comments to Don Banks.)

NFL Power Rankings
1Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 2
Taking my cue from enterprising Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, I'm hereby putting the top spot in the NFL Power Rankings up for sale to the highest bidder. Everyone but the winless Lions are eligible to get in this game, because after all, this thing has to at least look on the level. Do I hear $12.95? Going once, going twice, sold to the man in the sunglasses, mustache and two-tone blue wind-breaker. Who knew Jeff Fisher had that kind of money to throw around on his once-beaten team?
2New York Giants
Last Week: 1
Wouldn't it be ironic if December of last year was when New York started to put it all together as a team and took its first real steps to that historic Super Bowl upset, and this December, after looking dominant all season long, was when things started to fall apart for the defending-champion Giants? To me, that's why it's pretty crucial to see how New York responds to this week's challenge at Dallas, NFC East title locked up or not. At this time of year, you don't want to give the bad mojo any chance to build.
3Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 3
I look at their record and keep trying to convince myself the Steelers are a potential Super Bowl team, but I can never get completely past the problems they have protecting Ben Roethlisberger, who has again taken an almost weekly pounding. And it's not all the O-line's fault, because No. 7, despite promising to do otherwise this year in training camp, still holds onto the ball entirely too long. Makes you wonder what carnage might ensue in Baltimore this Sunday, because the Ravens defense gets after everyone.
4Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 7
Three weeks ago, after they won to get to 8-2 in Week 11, I tried to see around the corner and sound the alarm about how overlooked the Panthers were this year in terms of the NFC's elite. But I'm not sure I completely believed it myself. Now I do. What a complete destruction of a proud and talented Tampa Bay defense Monday night in Charlotte. Have to admit I'd love to see a Panthers-Giants duel of multi-faceted running games in the NFC title game. Carolina's my big mover in the top 10 this week, jumping three spots to the serious Super Bowl contention corner of the neighborhood.
5Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 6
Read this week where the Colts have now joined the 1989-95 San Francisco 49ers as the only teams to ever mount winning streaks of at least six games for five consecutive seasons. Which impressed the heck out of me, until I quickly did the math and realized that those 49ers pushed their streak to seven years in a row. And those were San Francisco's first seven seasons of its eight-year George Seifert era. And what happened after the first season in which the 49ers didn't win at least six in a row? Seifert lost his job, despite going 12-4 in 1996.
6Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 4
Cruel, cruel time of the year, December. In the fourth quarter of Monday night's loss at Carolina, the Bucs still had within their grasp a 10th victory, a virtual hammerlock on first place in the NFC South, a likely first-round playoff bye and a decent shot at earning the NFC's top seed in the playoffs. But in an instant Tampa Bay had lost by 15, dropped to the No. 5 slot in the NFC playoff seeding and found itself needing to win this week's critical game at Atlanta to keep from falling further. That's why we love the regular season's final month.
7Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 9
What a hope-killing, game-sealing touchdown drive the Ravens laid on the weary Redskins in the fourth quarter of that 24-10 win against Washington on Sunday night: 12 plays, 83 yards, stretching over half a quarter (7:52), with 10 of the calls runs by Baltimore's bruising fullback Le'Ron McClain. The Redskins knew exactly what was coming -- more of McClain -- and were powerless to stop it. I couldn't help but think of Dr. Z. He loves those essence-of-football type of drives, with one team imposing its will on another.
8New York Jets
Last Week: 5
New York is dropping three slots a week of late, from No. 2, to No. 5, to No. 8 in a blink of an eye. But I know what the Jet-skis are doing. They're just setting us up, and now they're going to win out and earn the AFC East championship that we all tried to give them two weeks ago. It's Buffalo this week, at Seattle, and then the biggie in Week 17: A visit from Miami for all the marbles. Pennington back in New York vs. Favre. What could be a more perfect denouement?
9New England Patriots
Last Week: 8
I have a theory that old-school Bill Belichick actually prefers coaching this type of Patriots season, with all its challenges, injury issues and setbacks more so than last year's almost-perfect points-palooza magic carpet ride. This is the way life -- and football -- really goes most of the time. Stuff happens. You roll up your sleeves and work through it. The strongest and most adaptable survive. Nothing's perfect. But I realize, of course, that I could be completely full of hooey. Maybe the man in the hoodie would take 2007 all over again in a heartbeat. He's just not talking.
10Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 13
Did you notice anything? I absolutely had to have the three-team AFC East logjam lined up in a nice, neat row: No. 8 Jets, No. 9 Patriots and No. 10 Dolphins. That's because this race is simply too close to call. But don't sweat it Dol-fans, every NFL pundit I've read this week says the schedule favors Miami winning the AFC East. Which is why it probably can't happen.
11Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 10
I just realized the Falcons remarkably enough are in the midst of playing seven of their final eight games indoors. That's one game outside in the elements in the season's entire second half, and that was in perpetually sunny and 72-degree San Diego in Week 13, for crying out loud. Atlanta in December: at New Orleans, home against Tampa Bay, at Minnesota, home against St. Louis. I don't know about the wisdom of this. Everybody needs a little fresh air from time to time.
12Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 18
Nobody jumped more than the Eagles this week, who are up six big spots after thrashing the Giants in dominating fashion at the Meadowlands. There's no other team in the NFL that owns just one division victory -- garnered in Week 14, no less -- that's still very much in the playoff hunt, but the plucky, never-say-tie Eagles somehow are.
13Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 15
I'm not sure what it says about the state of our world that Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe became a YouTube sensation this week for something other than catching the game-winning touchdown pass in Detroit on Sunday, but I know it's not good. All I know is that before last week, Shiancoe's notoriously bad hands were the most talked about part of his anatomy.
14Denver Broncos
Last Week: 16
I've decided the devoid-of-defense Broncos are kind of fun. They're three games over .500 and they're getting out-scored this season by 20 points, the NFL's only division leader to be running a scoreboard deficit. Somebody out there in the Rocky Mountain region should make up T-shirts nicknaming the Denver defense the "Orange Mush'' and just roll with it. I'm telling you, there's money to be made.
15Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 12
Is there anyone else out there like me who went to the trouble of looking up how the then St. Louis Cardinals could somehow manage to win back-to-back NFC East titles in 1974-75 without getting to host even one playoff game? Back then, only the division winners with the best two records got to play at home in the first (divisional) round. So the Cardinals go 10-4 in 1974, but lose out on tiebreakers to both Minnesota and the L.A. Rams (both 10-4) and wind up losing to the Vikings on the road. In 1975, St. Louis finishes 11-3, but the Rams and Vikings beat them out again, at 12-2, with the Cardinals losing at Los Angeles in the playoffs. Sheesh.
16Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 11
I was in the Heinz Field press box Sunday and witnessed the Cowboys' holiday-season giveaway in Pittsburgh. If I was a powerful member of the Dallas organization at this point, I'd put out the following word: Stop talking, and start doing. Nothing anyone says matters one bit until Tony Romo and Co. prove they can win a big game in December. Case closed. Chatter is cheap. Actions mean everything.
17New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 17
The Saints have back-to-back games at Chicago and at Detroit, but I don't hear any buzz about them planning to just stay in the frosty Great Lakes region in order to cut down on travel. And we are in a recession.
18Chicago Bears
Last Week: 19
Second-round rookie running back Matt Forte is averaging 113.5 yards of combined rushing and receiving per game this season, with 10 touchdowns. Which is more than the combined output of rookie running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Rashard Mendenhall by more than 550 yards. Just remember that during next spring's NFL draft buildup, when everyone's trying to tell you who's going to do what in 2009.
19Washington Redskins
Last Week: 14
And so ends the honeymoon phase in Washington for rookie Redskins head coach Jim Zorn, who this week got fragged by his unhappy running back, Clinton Portis. No worries, J.Z. -- Portis popped off about Joe Gibbs, too. Portis toes the line about being a team-first guy when things are going good, but when push comes to shove, and the losses start to mount, he's a me-guy. Always has been, probably always will be. You can look it up.
20Houston Texans
Last Week: 22
That 0-4 start with no home games in September due to Hurricane Ike doomed them in 2008, but the Texans are 6-3 in their last nine games, proving they haven't quit like Jack Del Rio's Jaguars. But to really get our attention and make us take Houston seriously in 2009, an upset of the 12-1 Titans at home this week would go a very long way.
21Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 20
There's nothing quite as painful or frustrating as a season that has been lost after first seeming destined for greatness. The Bills better just be glad that mail-in job was in Toronto last Sunday rather than Orchard Park. The leather-lunged crazies would have been out in full force at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and head coach Dick Jauron might have needed a Pope-mobile to get from the sideline to the locker room.
22San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 23
It's beginning to look a lot like Mike Singletary's team in San Francisco. Meaning full time. Meaning for at least 2009. Meaning the 49ers' midseason Mike replacement seems to have worked (from Nolan to Singletary).
23San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 24
Back in July, I talked to Chargers general manager A.J. Smith for a story I was doing about San Diego's obsession with all things New England. Beating the hated Patriots had almost become the be-all, end-all in San Diego. Then it occurred to me the other day that the Chargers spanked the Patriots in Week 6, and where'd it get 'em? To about 3-3 at that point, the apex of their season, on the way to 5-8.
24Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 21
There's no way to sugar-coat it, the Packers defense has been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season. But if I hear one more Packers fan make the case that this year's collapse in Green Bay was prompted by the Aaron Rodgers over the un-retired Brett Favre decision, I'm going to question what they put in those cheese curds.
25Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 25
What an in-artful dodge by Marty Schottenheimer on the radio the other day. Interest in the Browns head coaching job? "Very unlikely,'' Marty said, dismissing all the talk and speculation. But about that Browns general manager job? "Intriguing,'' Schottenheimer said, thereby sparking a new round of speculation and talk.
26Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 26
This is how badly things are going for the Jaguars this year: They finally turn first-round receiver Matt Jones into a halfway decent player, and he gets suspended for the final three games of the season for that little cocaine-related problem this summer. I mean, honestly.
27Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 29
We're shaking up the bottom of our rankings, moving the 2-11 Seahawks and Chiefs ahead of the 3-10 Raiders, wild as that sounds. What? It doesn't sound all that wild? Yeah, I suppose not. But Seattle is at least still playing hard, making the Patriots sweat it out for that eighth win last Sunday. The Raiders looked like the Washington Generals at San Diego last Thursday.
28Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 28
I just noticed this week that the Chiefs 2008 draft included Virginia guard Branden Albert in the first round, Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Flowers in the second round and Grand Valley State cornerback Brandon Carr in the fifth round. That's a lot of nicknames you gotta come up with, or there's going to be mass confusion in the locker room. But you know what? They're all three pretty good players.
29Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 27
When I heard this week that USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had taken the University of Washington job, I couldn't help but wonder if he'll always be thankful he passed on the chance to become the Raiders head coach in early 2007. That decision, of course, led to Al Davis hiring then USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. And the rest, as they say, is history.
30St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 30
It's Seattle at St. Louis this week, so something's got to give at the bottom of the NFC West. Sorry, folks. That's all I've got.
31Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 31
Jordan Palmer actually got into the game and played quarterback for a bit in last week's blowout loss at Indianapolis. Which is kind of like Billy Ripken pinch-hitting for Cal, circa 1986.
32Detroit Lions
Last Week: 32
Has there ever been a closer symmetry between what's going on with a city and its football team? Detroit's Big Three automotive makers are on the verge of going broke and seeking a federal rescue. Detroit's Lions are on the verge of coming up zeroes too and seek the salvation from infamy that would come with just one win.
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