Posted: Wednesday November 28, 2012 12:06PM ; Updated: Wednesday November 28, 2012 12:20PM
Don Banks
Don Banks>NFL POWER RANKINGS

Back in the '80s and '90s, one of the annual storylines in the NFL was how dome teams just weren't cut out to win a Super Bowl. Football outdoors in the cold of December and January was too difficult for dome types to adjust to, and all that climate control made them soft just when the season got tough. Blah, blah, blah.

First the 1999 Rams disproved the theory, and then the 2006 Colts followed suit. By the time the 2009 Saints won their ring, I'm not sure the dome angle was even mentioned. Some piece of supporting evidence is always absolutely pivotal to a particular trend, until it's not.

If this dome-team thing runs in three-year cycles, it might be a good omen for the Texans and Falcons this season, a pair of indoor teams that currently hold down the No. 1 playoff seeds in their respective conferences. In fact, if current realities hold, neither Houston or Atlanta will have to play outdoors again this season after Week 14.

The Texans are at New England in Week 14, then play home against Indy and Minnesota, and then at the Colts in the regular season finale (presuming the roof is closed both at home and in Indy, which is almost always the case). As for the Falcons, they're at Carolina in Week 14, then home against the Giants, at Detroit, and home against Tampa Bay. Throw in the pair of playoff games both top seeds are hoping to play host to, and a trip to the Superdome in early February, and the Texans and Falcons might not have to venture outside from Dec. 9-10 until next season.

Which is fortunate, because it's really cold in Houston and Atlanta at this time of year. Wait, no it's not. Oh, never mind. Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1Houston Texans
Last Week: 1
Not to look past the impending trip to Tennessee, but the most telling checkpoint of the season for the Texans will be their Week 14 Monday night showdown in New England. If Houston can handle a late-season game in Foxboro, with the Patriots hitting on almost all cylinders these days, Gary Kubiak's club will be ready for whatever January brings. But that's a big if, isn't it?
 
2Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 2
The Falcons are simply cutting it too close, too often in 2012, and that should make Atlanta fans feel like they've seen this movie before. The Falcons are 7-1 this season in games decided by a margin of seven points or less, roughly the same results they experienced in close games in 2010, when their 7-2 mark in such situations sparked them to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Not that it did them any good in the postseason, with visiting Green Bay blowing out one-and-done Atlanta in the divisional round.
 
3San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 4
Jim Harbaugh seemed to be trying to have it both ways on Monday when he declared "Alex Smith is our starting quarterback," even while saying nothing that would indicate a demotion of Colin Kaepernick is coming this week. That's an attempt at window dressing, probably for the sake of bucking up Smith's ego and tamping down ill will in the 49ers locker room. But the reality is, if San Francisco keeps winning, the locker room will throw its full support behind the move, and if it doesn't, there will be those who say they were against the switch all along. That's just the way it works in the NFL.
 
4New England Patriots
Last Week: 6
The Patriots just have that head-down, we-mean-business look to them as December looms. When you can start seeing your breath in Foxboro, the Patriots can start to see the finish line. New England has averaged almost 44 points per game during its current five-game win streak, and its three losses this season were by a combined four points (by two against Arizona, by one at Baltimore, and by one at Seattle).
 
5Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 7
Like the Falcons, the Ravens have walked the tight rope this season, going 6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer. History proves that's a difficult blueprint to follow in the playoffs, when teams like the hapless Chargers aren't around to give you the opportunity to convert on 4th-and-29. Baltimore can step on the visiting Steelers' throats this week at M&T Bank Stadium, where it has won its past 16 games, including the playoffs. The most recent Ravens home loss? You guessed it. Against Pittsburgh in Week 13 of 2010, when Troy Polamalu's late-game strip sack of Joe Flacco lifted the Steelers, 13-10, and decided the AFC North race.
 
6Denver Broncos
Last Week: 5
Last season about now, the football nation was gripped with a full-blown case of Tebow-mania, as Denver staged a succession of late-game comebacks en route to an 8-8 finish and an improbable division title. But what a difference a year makes. Or a Manning makes. There's really no drama with Peyton. At least not after that ridiculous second-half rally in San Diego in Week 6. He just methodically grinds out victory after victory, and the Broncos likely will be playing for the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye when they travel to Baltimore in Week 15.
 
7Chicago Bears
Last Week: 8
The Bears lost about half their team to injury against the Vikings last Sunday, but Jay Cutler made it out in one piece, and that means everything in Chicago. No, seriously. Everything. Look it up.
 
8New York Giants
Last Week: 12
The Giants have become the team version of Randy Moss, circa 2001 or so: They play when they want to play. But, man, can they play when they put their minds to it. The demolition of the Packers last Sunday night forced New York back on the short list of NFC Super Bowl contenders. The Giants still have some flaws, but when they're on their game they can make any opponent look bad, and win anywhere (see at Green Bay, at San Francisco last January).
 
9Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 3
I'm not giving up on my NFC Super Bowl pick, but the Packers' offensive line can't let Aaron Rodgers get hit like he got hit against the Giants. Getting the likes of Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings healthy and back into the lineup will help Green Bay look legit again, but unless the offensive line improves, nothing much else will matter.
 
10Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 13
It's this simple for the Colts: If they stay ahead of the 6-5 Steelers or the 6-5 Bengals, they're in the playoffs. There are only seven teams with winning records in the AFC, and six of them are going to the postseason. Unless the 5-6 Dolphins make a run -- and they've still got to play twice against the Patriots -- Indianapolis will have at least one game in January to prep for. Here's hoping Chuck Pagano is back on the Colts sideline for that one.
 
11Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 17
The best news for the Bengals' playoff hopes is that by the time Cincinnati faces the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 16, and the Ravens at home in Week 17, Pittsburgh could be out of the wild-card race and Baltimore could have the division and its postseason seed locked up. But the Bengals can't afford any slip-up this week at reeling San Diego. Keep it close into the fourth quarter and the Chargers will find a way to lose.
 
12Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 10
After that critical Bucs loss at home to the Falcons, I don't like their chances of making the dance. Not with road trips to Denver, New Orleans and Atlanta still to come. Still, this season's foundation-laying work by rookie head coach Greg Schiano feels a lot more solid than Tampa Bay's surprising 10-6 finish under Raheem Morris in 2010.
 
13Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 9
The 17-point fourth quarter the Seahawks allowed in Miami threatens to doom their playoff hopes. Unless a road win in Chicago this week and/or at Buffalo (in Toronto) in Week 15 can be pulled off. It's not out of the question, but the Seahawks just lack killer instinct on the road this year, and all the close losses have started to blend together.
 
14Washington Redskins
Last Week: 18
Any typical year, Andrew Luck or even Russell Wilson might be running way ahead in the Offensive Rookie of the Year debate. But as of this moment, I don't know how I could vote for anyone other than Robert Griffin III, and I say that knowing the Redskins are under .500 and the Colts and Seahawks aren't. In Washington's back-to-back wins over the Eagles and Cowboys, Griffin has simply been in a league of his own. If he follows it up with another boffo showing against the Giants at home Monday night, sweeping through the division, just give him the award right now.
 
15Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 11
In the Quarterback Ultimate Value Bowl, who do you like: The Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger or the Bears without Jay Cutler? Tough call, isn't it? Both teams are almost embarrassingly inept without their starter under center.
 
16New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 14
Don't give up quite yet, Saints fans, not when your heroes seem to own the Falcons. Now, if New Orleans can't win at Atlanta Thursday night, different story. Then the white flag starts to slowly make its way up the pole, and the lost season of 2012 officially starts to reach its denouement.
 
17Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 15
I like Jared Allen, and he's one of the best pass rushers of his era, but I really don't know how he can claim his blindsiding of Bears guard Lance Louis last Sunday was a clean hit. It was every bit as "clean" as Warren Sapp blowing up Packers offensive tackle Chad Clifton in 2002, and you might recall how Sapp was reviled around the league for that needlessly vicious block. I'd be shocked if Allen isn't slapped with an attention-getting fine. And let's not forget, Allen and his Vikings play the Bears again next week, in Minnesota.
 
18Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 21
That was a clutch fourth-quarter performance by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins against visiting Seattle. But between the quirky sprinkler delay and the phantom roughing the quarterback call that saved Tannehill a potentially game-deciding interception in the end zone, it wasn't the most convincing victory of Miami's season.
 
19Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 16
Watching one Cowboys game is like watching every Cowboys game. They always make it interesting, but they almost always find a way to fall just short of completing the comeback. They should scratch their way back to .500 with the deflated Eagles coming to town, but the Cowboys don't have it in their DNA to build a three-game winning streak.
 
20Detroit Lions
Last Week: 20
Not making excuses for the Lions, who have been mostly dreadful this year, but I'll say it again: A coach challenging a play that's already covered under an automatic review is no grievous sin. It should be a five-yard delay of game penalty, then on to the replay monitor. What was the NFL ever thinking with the severity of that rule? Make the punishment fit the crime.
 
21St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 26
The Rams are 3-0-1 against the NFC West, and 1-6 against the rest of league. If I'm St. Louis, I'm petitioning the league for more division games. But here come the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who the Rams saw plenty of in that Week 10 tie in Candlestick. To a degree, the 49ers have St. Louis to thank for perhaps ending the Alex Smith era in San Francisco.
 
22Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 23
With Jacksonville, St. Louis and Seattle (in Toronto) just ahead, let's see if the Bills can use that three-game homestand and make something of their lost season, getting back to .500 for the first time since being 3-3. It's not the goal they hoped to be chasing at this point in the year, but it's the only realistic goal they've got at the moment.
 
23Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 28
I'll tell you one reason why the Steelers fumbled five times against the Browns last Sunday: Cleveland safety T.J. Ward was hitting everything wearing black and gold. And furiously. With cornerback Joe Haden and Ward, the Browns secondary poses some issues for opponents.
 
24Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 19
Colin Kaepernick's early success as a starter in San Francisco just underlines how little Jake Locker has proven so far through two years in Tennessee. Locker and Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert seem to be the exception to the rule so far when it comes to the strong quarterback classes of 2011 and 2012.
 
25New York Jets
Last Week: 22
Not that it has been a circus act in Jets-ville this season, but the big stories this week were Mark Sanchez being tackled by his offensive lineman's butt, and Fireman Ed deciding to turn in his hard hat in order to lower his profile. I can't wait to see the Jets team highlight film this year.
 
26Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 29
Cam Newton had a nice night in the win at Philadelphia, with two touchdown passes and two more rushing. But how much celebrating can one man do when he leads a 3-8 team? In other news, I bet Gene Chizik wishes he still had a celebrating Cam Newton around. Those were the days.
 
27San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 24
Well, that settles it. Takeo Spikes will not make the playoffs for the 15th consecutive time in his 15-year NFL career. For my money, it's absolutely the most mind-boggling statistic in NFL history. There's got to be an ESPN 30-for-30 film just begging to be made about the Spikes saga. I'd watch it.
 
28Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 25
After beating Miami at home in overtime to improve to 4-0, the Cardinals soared all the way to No. 5 in our power rankings. Life was good. Then came October. And November. And seven losses and three quarterbacks later, it has come to this: Arizona is down among the dregs of the NFL, scraping by and keeping the Eagles company. (I'm telling you, my riff last week on the Curse of Kevin Kolb has legs).
 
29Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 27
The Eagles have lost seven in a row and can make it eight Sunday night at Dallas. That would be Philly's first eight-game skid since 1968 and the days of Joe Kuharich. And as I recall, the Eagles played some very bad football in the early-'70s and mid-'80s. Getting a ticket out of town about now makes Jason Babin the lucky one.
 
30Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 31
Okay, so maybe Chad Henne isn't the long-term answer in Jacksonville, I'll give you that. But as backups go, he did what a good backup should do: perform when the opportunity presents itself. Jason Campbell couldn't manage that in Chicago. Charlie Batch dropped the ball in Pittsburgh. Brady Quinn didn't move the needle in Kansas City. Nick Foles hasn't made a difference in Philly. John Skelton and Ryan Lindley haven't stopped the bleeding in Arizona. Should I keep going? I can't. I'm out of examples.
 
31Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 30
They're finally talking Terrelle Pryor time in Oakland. What took so long? Why the Pryor restraint? (And yes, I do write to amuse myself.)
 
32Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 32
Romeo Crennel is a good man with a superb track record as an NFL defensive coordinator and assistant coach. But he has now presided over the Browns and Chiefs as a head coach, and the results have been mostly abysmal. The moral of the story is quite simple: If you get your head coaching shot, you had better make sure you have a quarterback. Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel really won't do.

 
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