Everyone prepare yourselves. The first seismic shakeup in the power poll has occurred. This comes on the heels of a wild Week 12 that included the unbeaten Titans getting rocked by the Jets, continued resurgences in Dallas and Indianapolis, and a return of the Patriot air assault. The result? A marked shift in the balance of power from the NFC back to the AFC.
1. New York Giants (10-1) Order is restored. The G-Men, who have plowed through a murderous stretch (at PIT, DAL, at PHI, BAL, at ARI) without a single misstep, are now officially the team to beat. (As if they weren’t already.)
2. New York Jets (8-3) When a team rips off five consecutive wins — the latter two coming in New England and in Tennessee — and happens to share a city with the champs, it’s not New York hyperbole to start talking about the prospects of an all-Gotham Super Bowl.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) Suddenly there’s a power vacuum in the AFC. It’s fitting then that a trek to Foxborough is all that stands in the way of the Steelers and their quest to return to the top of the mountain. A win over the Patriots and the road to Super Bowl XLIII effectively goes through Pittsburgh.
4. Tennessee Titans (10-1) After nearly two months on top of the poll the Titans were manhandled by the Jets, raising doubts about their perceived toughness. How they respond these next few weeks will go a long way towards assessing their chances come January.
5. Dallas Cowboys (7-4) Injuries, sideshows and turmoil aside, the Cowboys are 6-2 when Tony Romo is their starting quarterback. Since Romo’s return, T.O. has awakened and the defense has been ferocious. Beware of the ‘Boys.
6. Indianapolis Colts (7-4) In a span of four weeks the Colts have defeated the Patriots, Steelers and Chargers. Taking into consideration an extremely soft schedule down the stretch (at CLE, CIN, DET, at JAX, TEN), you can pencil them in for one of the AFC’s two wildcard berths. Then you can trace over it with a sharpie.
7. New England Patriots (7-4) Another example of how the Patriots set and dead trends in the NFL: After the Dolphins smoked New England in Week 3, everyone wanted a piece of the Wildcat. Now? Not so much.
8. Carolina Panthers (8-3) First their defense struggled to contain the Lions at home. Then it literally stood and watched the Falcons put up four touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 45-28 loss. Not a good direction to be heading in as the holidays approach.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3) If a three-game win streak includes coming back from 21 and 17 down vs. the Chiefs and Lions, respectively, it doesn’t deserve to be called a win streak. A “three-game-avoided-humiliation streak” is more apt.
10. Arizona Cardinals (7-4) The Cardinals exhibited Sunday that they can compete with the best. Now is the time to use the end of the season to improve sufficiently enough to take the next step in the playoffs.
Here are the Week 13 picks (home teams in CAPS)
Tennessee over DETROIT
DALLAS over Seattle
Arizona over PHILADELPHIA
BUFFALO over San Francisco
Baltimore over CINCINNATI
Indianapolis over CLEVELAND
GREEN BAY over Carolina
Miami over ST. LOUIS
TAMPA BAY over New Orleans
WASHINGTON over NY Giants
SAN DIEGO over Atlanta
NEW ENGLAND over Pittsburgh
NY JETS over Denver
OAKLAND over Kansas City
MINNESOTA over Chicago
HOUSTON over Jacksonville
Last Week: 10-5