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The Polite Power Rankings: Week Twelve

Déjà vu, huh? This time last year football fans were placing bets on whether the New England Patriots would go undefeated and whether the Miami Dolphins would go completely defeated. This year, the saga is replaying itself in the forms of the surprisingly dominant Tennessee Titans and the not-so-surprisingly atrocious Detroit Lions. But drama isn’t reserved for these extremes. In the middle of the pack we’re seeing perennial heavyweights like the Colts and Patriots ebb and flow, which keeps everybody on their toes. The next few weeks will give us a clearer sense of who will be trotting into the post season and who will be taking a seat.

1. Tennessee Titans (1)

On Sunday, the Titans made it four of four against divisional rivals by taking down the Jaguars for the second time this year. If the Titans can come out on top this Sunday against the Jets, they’re likely to cruise to 14–0 (Lions, Browns and Texans the three following weeks). Weeks 15 and 16 against the Steelers and Colts will bring their biggest challenges.

2. New York Giants (2)

“Look out,” I told some friends. “The Ravens just might knock off the Giants.” Well, we all know that I was wrong. The Giants are looking strong on offense and even stronger on defense, with solid special teams performance. In other words, the G-Men have the repeat twinkle in their collective eye.

3. Carolina Panthers (3)

Don’t look at the QB and wide receivers if you’re looking for the strengths in Carolina. This team is riding through November on the shoulders of its running back and its defense — and maybe fumes, as well. They’re a highly ranked team that’s poised for a fall.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5)

Five sacks by five different guys — that’s what the Bucs served up against the Vikes on Sunday. And this week they get to let loose on a fragile Detroit defense that would be well advised to simply duck and take cover.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7)

The Steelers barely prevailed against the Chargers Sunday — but they did prevail, which gives the Steelers some much-needed confidence as they head into a brutal stretch against divisional foes and winning teams, including the Titans in mid-December.

6. New York Jets (11)

7. Arizona Cardinals (12)

8. New England Patriots (4)

9. Indianapolis Colts (14)

Someone flipped a switch in Indianapolis — and just in time for the Colts to keep themselves in the playoff picture. Peyton Manning is back to those fourth-quarter heroics that have had opponents trembling for years.

10. Washington Redskins (8)

11. Dallas Cowboys (15)

12. Baltimore Ravens (9)

13. Denver Broncos (20)

14. Atlanta Falcons (18)

No, they’re not the world’s greatest team. They drop close games (as they did Sunday against the Broncos) and are prone to laying grand eggs now and again. But this is a far better football team than any of us expected this year, and even as they take their licks they’re setting themselves up for some brighter years ahead.

15. Miami Dolphins (19)

More than 200 yards on the ground. Almost 200 yards in the air. And just shy of two full sacks for Joey Porter. (Combined, Joey and the D took down JaMarcus Russel six times.) Stay tuned this Sunday for a battle of the 6–4 teams from the AFC North: the Fins host the Pats.

16. Philadelphia Eagles (6)

Said Donovan McNabb after his Eagles ended with a tie against the Bengals: “I’ve never been a part of a tie. I never even knew that was in the rule book.” Add three picks onto his rule-book ignorance and you have a pretty rough Sunday for McNabb, who is seeing his team’s post-season hopes get smaller and smaller.

17. Chicago Bears (10)

They exist now. Sort of.

18. Green Bay Packers (14)

19. Buffalo Bills (16)

20. New Orleans Saints (22)

21. Minnesota Vikings (17)

22. Cleveland Browns (24)

23. San Francisco 49ers (26)

24. Jacksonville Jaguars (21)

25. San Diego Chargers (23)

26. Houston Texans (25)

27. Cincinnati Bengals (29)

28. Seattle Seahawks (28)

29. Kansas City Chiefs (27)

30. Oakland Raiders (31)

31. St. Louis Rams (30)

32. Detroit Lions (32)

We’re all a little shocked that the Titans are making a serious run at an undefeated season. But are we equally shocked that the Lions are trying to outdo last year’s Dolphins by making it a true 0–16? Naw, not really. This isn’t the most talented team, true, but what it’s really lacking is leadership — on and off the field.

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