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Posted: Wednesday December 17, 2008 12:32PM; Updated: Wednesday December 17, 2008 5:12PM
Don Banks Don Banks >
NFL POWER RANKINGS

NFL Power Rankings, Week 16

Story Highlights

6 Trends: 1. Steelers, Panthers knock Titans, Giants from top; 2. Colts still fifth

3. Cowboys rocket up list, from 16th to seventh; 4. Falcons jump up five spots

5. AFC East trio remain bunched together; 6. Lions continue to hold down No. 32

Fifteen weeks in the books and so much for what we thought we knew. A Titans-Giants Super Bowl matchup? Not so fast, Sparky. Our top two teams in last week's power rankings both went down to Texas and had themselves a lost weekend, failing to even score a touchdown between them. Tennessee looked punchless in a 13-12 loss at Houston, and New York was run over by a desperate bunch of Cowboys in Dallas.

So, we start anew, re-configuring our top five to make room at the top for the surging Steelers, winners of five in a row, and a Panthers team that is starting to demand respect and attention. Things should be a whole lot clearer next week at this time, with both conferences featuring a game that matches its potential top two seeds head to head: Carolina at New York in the NFC, and Pittsburgh at Tennessee in the AFC.

Clarity is on the way. At least that's the idea. (Send comments to Don Banks.)

NFL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 3
After covering Steelers wins the past two weeks, I can't say they've dazzled me in the first 58 minutes or so of each game, but they have an impeccable sense of timing when it comes to getting things done at crunch time. Or as head coach Mike Tomlin put it after his club's 13-9 last-minute win in Baltimore, "There was an overwhelming sense that 'We have to do this.' The guys felt the urgency of the moment.'' It's mid-December, and that urgency of the moment stuff can carry a team a long way at this point. It's starting to look a bit 2005-ish in Steel-town.
 
2Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 4
Here you go, Panthers. Here's your big shot. Don't disappoint us. We believe in rewarding the winners here in the SI.com NFL Power Rankings, and Carolina has won three in a row and seven of its past eight. And now comes the largest stage of the season: A Sunday-night game at the home of the defending Super Bowl champions, with the NBC cameras rolling and the all their talking heads talking. But the Panthers are working without a net of sorts, because while a win locks up the No. 1 seed, a loss means they haven't even punched a playoff ticket yet.
 
3Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 1
There's suddenly an almost palpable sense of unease surrounding the Titans. No Albert Haynesworth for at least two weeks. No magic coming forth from Kerry Collins' right arm of late. And now Pittsburgh's blocking the path to the AFC's top seed, which has seemed bound for Tennessee all season long. The Titans wouldn't be the first juggernaut to lose their way in the season's final month. Think of Dallas last season, or the Colts in 2005. It's very hard to keep the tank full over the course of 17 long weeks in the NFL.
 
4New York Giants
Last Week: 2
Such disrespect for Tommy Coughlin's men in blue. But truth be known, I considered jumping the red-hot Colts over the Giants in the No. 4 slot, based on them winning in overtime over New York in that colorized ESPN production last Saturday night. I couldn't do it, even thought I think that Unitas kid is going to be pretty good.
 
5Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 5
The Colts are at Jacksonville on Thursday night, and while it's hard to remember back that far, they actually lost at home to the Jaguars in Week 3. But that was then and this is now. Now the Colts are so wildly popular as the wild-card team that no one wants to play that they've become like the proverbial unsung player who seems to get tons of attention for being unsung.
 
6Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 11
I'm bumping the Falcons way up the board for their gritty, in-artistic overtime win at home against Tampa Bay. It could be a short-lived vantage point for the Falcons, because they have a tough one at Minnesota this week. Wouldn't you love to know what Bobby Petrino thinks of the 2008 Falcons? He's probably rationalizing that he could have won too with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Co., but that's letting himself off easy. It's back to practicing the pig calls, Bobby. Sooey, or whatever it is they say down in Arkansas.
 
7Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 16
Two things: I obviously had dropped the Cowboys way too low after their crushing loss at Pittsburgh in Week 14. I'm making amends this week, with a huge jump after their impressive domination of the Giants. And secondly, weeding out this mass of 9-5 teams with any sense of coherency isn't as easy as it looks. I blame Ed Werder.
 
8Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 13
Winning comfortably on the road against a division champion is impressive, even if it was against the just-happy-to-be-here Cardinals. The return of Tarvaris Jackson to relevance makes for a nice late-season development in Minnesota, and looking on the bright side, the Vikings still have half of their Williams Wall standing when it looked like the whole thing would come tumbling down a few weeks back.
 
9Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 7
It may be just my imagination, but I can't help but think the Ravens of past years would have reacted far differently when that ridiculously crucial call at the goal line went against them last Sunday. But this isn't a Baltimore team that seems capable of having a mid-game meltdown like the one in that memorable Monday nighter at home against the unbeaten Patriots last year. And that's a credit to John Harbaugh.
 
10Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 6
December wasn't too kind to Jon Gruden's team last year either, with Tampa Bay dropping three of its last four to limp into the playoffs with zero momentum. Now the Bucs of '08 are 0-2 this month, with consecutive road losses in the division. But that's where finishing with a pair of games at home against AFC West teams (San Diego and Oakland) should come in very handy.
 
11New York Jets
Last Week: 8
If the Jets don't find some part of their vanishing game to rely on this week at Seattle, they could lose to the 3-11 Seahawks and then all heck will break loose in Gotham. New York beat Buffalo and we still dropped it three spots, because if there was ever a win that felt like a moral defeat, it was that one.
 
12New England Patriots
Last Week: 9
It doesn't feel right that a team could go 11-5 in the NFL and miss the playoffs. But if form holds in the AFC East, that's what the Patriots are facing. Something tells me that form isn't going to hold. When does it ever, at least for long?
 
13Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 10
For the second consecutive week, I've lined up the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins right in a row, because I really don't know what else to do with the three-team tie atop the AFC East. Miami is a plucky bunch, but the 49ers did drive the ball up and down the field against the Dolphins, stopping only as they neared the goal line.
 
14Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 12
The Eagles are riding a three-game winning streak at just the right time. Philly fans are big Vikings fans this week, and not just because the two organizations had Cris Carter and Randall Cunningham in common. Minnesota plays hosts to the Falcons, and the Eagles desperately need Atlanta to lose this one to clear their path to the playoffs. The Falcons are home against the Rams in Week 17, so it's now or never for Philly.
 
15Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 15
Let's just fast forward and admit this Cardinals team is headed for a 9-7 regular season, and a one-and-done playoff appearance as the NFC's No. 4 seed. A Dallas at Arizona rematch in the first round would be entertaining. It was the Cardinals who broke Tony Romo's pinkie in Week 6 and started all the bad mojo for the club formerly known as America's Team.
 
16Chicago Bears
Last Week: 18
The Bears have to take care of business Monday night against Green Bay. The Packers throttled them at Lambeau five weeks ago, but that was the last good day of work Green Bay has put in this season. With the Vikings still having to face the Falcons and Giants, a division title remains entirely possible for the Bears. But they need a Carolina win this week against New York to keep the Giants playing hard in Week 17 against Minnesota.
 
17Denver Broncos
Last Week: 14
You wouldn't think Denver could lose at home to sagging Buffalo, or that San Diego could go into Tampa Bay and somehow survive. But maybe, just maybe both could happen. Then we'd get treated to a Broncos at Chargers Week 17 winner-take-all showdown, featuring two of the most maddeningly mediocre teams in recent memory. It'd be fun.
 
18Houston Texans
Last Week: 20
I'm ready to predict the onrushing Texans universally will be declared one of the teams to watch for in 2009, with the mandatory chic-pick label attached to them as soon as this season ends. The Browns, of course, owned this role at the end of 2007, and for years the Arizona Cardinals made the designation their own, but wound up breaking hearts every time the regular season rolled around. You can look it up.
 
19New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 17
If nothing else, the Saints found themselves a No. 1 running back in Pierre Thomas this season. Now if they could find a defense.
 
20San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 23
Where do you start with the what-might-have-beens if the Chargers fall one week shy of playing Denver for the division title at home in Week 17? Maybe Week 2, when they lost at Denver in the game Ed Hochuli will never entirely live down.
 
21San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 22
Like the Texans in the AFC, the 49ers this offseason will be dubbed the NFC's version of the team on the rise. They've played everybody tough at the end of the year, and with Mike Singletary leading them into the future (I say it's a near-lock he's back), they've got that "on their way to bigger and better things" vibe to them.
 
22Washington Redskins
Last Week: 19
Dropping the .500 Redskins behind the 5-9 49ers? What gives? The Redskins lost to the Bengals, that's what. There has to be a price paid for that level of ineptitude. They're not my rules, I just enforce them.
 
23Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 21
The Bills played so hard to knock off the first-place Jets and give themselves something to be proud of in ghastly second-half fold, and then they threw it all away with that terrible J.P. Losman fumble. Oh, the humanity. Even if Dick Jauron is back, I wouldn't think it's going to be too much fun to be him in Buffalo for a while.
 
24Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 26
They just beat the Packers, so we can't have them lower than Green Bay, no matter what. Not sure why I think so, but something tells me they'll give the Colts a tough game Thursday night too.
 
25Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 24
It can be a precipitous drop from one year to the next in the NFL. The Packers seemed to be destiny's darlings last season, right up until Brett Favre's overtime interception in the NFC title game. Now they're bound for just their second losing season since 1992, and every week brings a new bottom.
 
26Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 25
Everybody in Cleveland is crazy to run out and get Bill Cowher signed up as the Browns coach. But you never know what you might get shopping in that market. Maybe you get the Cowher of Pittsburgh fame, but maybe you get Joe Gibbs' second go-round in Washington, Dick Vermeil in Kansas City, or Bill Parcells in Dallas. You get decent, but not greatness.
 
27Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 27
It's Mike Holmgren's final home game in Seattle, and of course, the Seahawks brought Brett Favre in for the occasion. These two have said goodbye more than Pam and Tommy Lee.
 
28Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 31
We're giving the Bengals some love, because they played hard last week and beat a team with a winning record in Washington. Finding motivation in December at 1-11-1 is an accomplishment in and of itself.
 
29Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 28
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt did the right thing by finally asking for Carl Peterson's set of keys. Accountability should be from the top down in the NFL, and somehow Peterson always defied that credo.
 
30Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 29
Not only did Randy Moss stick salt in the wound with a pair of touchdowns last week for New England, ex-Raider LaMont Jordan got in on the act as well with a fourth-quarter score. I'll bet some of the most entertaining commentary of any NFL Sunday is in the owner's box of Al Davis.
 
31St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 30
With the 49ers coming to town, Rams fans this week get one last chance in 2008 to show up and turn the Edwards Jones Dome into a morgue. It's hard to even remember, but once upon a time a Rams-49ers game was among the NFL's best rivalries.
 
32Detroit Lions
Last Week: 32
With the Saints 1-6 on the road, having won only at Kansas City, some are predicting the Lions' time has finally come. It could happen. New Orleans has nothing to play for any more, and the Lions are desperation personified.
Disagree with Don?

 
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