NFL power rankings: Cardinals back to No. 1; Chiefs, Patriots rise as Cowboys, Bills fall for Week 12

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Week 11 in the NFL brought more unpredictable results. Had the developments in the games been predictable across the board, now that would have really been a story.

The wild, wacky 2021 season of parity has taken “any given Sunday” to a whole new level. Every week, upsets and upstarts change the landscape of the league when trying to separate its best teams from its worst.

Starting with No. 1 (again), there are more big changes, more risers and fallers, in this week’s Sporting News’ power rankings. Here’s how SN sees the teams stacking up against each other, from 1-32, going into Week 12:

MORE: Updated NFL standings, playoff picture for Week 11

NFL power rankings

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1. Arizona Cardinals 9-2 (previous ranking: 3)

The Cardinals won another game without Kyler Murray as Colt McCoy turned into a supersub in Seattle, helped a lot by the running game and defense. Kliff Kingsbury’s team has proved to be more complete than expected; it can enjoy a Week 12 bye knowing Murray should be back on the other side of it.

2. Green Bay Packers 8-3 (2)

The Packers did their best to take down the Vikings with Aaron Rodgers playing through a painful toe injury. The running game worked well with A.J. Dillon replacing Aaron Jones, but the defense is still lacking the juice to consistently slow down opponents.

3. Tennessee Titans 8-3 (1)

What was that? The Titans’ run-dependent ways with Derrick Henry caught up to them against the Texans when they couldn’t pass their way out of trouble in rainy and windy conditions. Ryan Tannehill cannot afford to play like that because the defense simply isn’t good enough to overcome it.

4. Los Angeles Rams 7-3 (6)

The Rams had a bye to regroup after their losses to the Titans and 49ers. They are still looking like the same limited wild-card team of last season under Sean McVay. Recent results have shown Matthew Stafford doesn’t give them a higher ceiling.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-3 (7)

The Buccaneers have a big opportunity to flex on Monday night after the Packers and Cowboys fell Sunday. They should feel good about their chances to rebound at home with Tom Brady under center after losses to the Saints and Washington.

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6. Baltimore Ravens 7-3 (8)

The Ravens don’t get any style points for outscoring the Bears, but they do earn more street cred for winning a defensive slugfest. Last-minute replacement Tyler Huntley proved capable as Lamar Jackson’s backup. Credit John Harbaugh’s coaching for the team overcoming so many injuries.

7. Kansas City Chiefs 7-4 (9)

The Chiefs made it four consecutive victories, putting a bow on their impressive November reign, by roping in the Cowboys. The only thing that can slow down their momentum with Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid is their Week 12 bye.

CHIEFS PLAYOFF PICTURE: KC back to being Super Bowl favorite

8. Dallas Cowboys 7-3 (4)

The Cowboys got ripped in Kansas City with no Amari Cooper and after losing CeeDee Lamb to a concussion. Dak Prescott was left to lead a different offense. Dallas also showed a lot of dents despite a good defensive performance. They have a short-week challenge with the Raiders at home next.

9. New England Patriots 7-4 (10)

The Patriots have used their consistent coaching, defensive foundation and rushing prowess to take advantage of the attrition in the AFC. They’re displaying a lot of familiar winning elements under Bill Belichick, only Mac Jones is at the controls now instead of Brady.

10. Los Angeles Chargers 6-4 (11)

The Chargers needed every bit of dynamic playmaking from Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler to hold off a furious Steelers comeback Sunday night. Their reward for Brandon Staley finding enough defense in the end is getting closer to the playoffs while still trailing the Chiefs.

11. Buffalo Bills 6-4 (5)

The Bills got in their own way against the Colts. The run defense suddenly wilted and the Josh Allen-led offense had a fundamental breakdown. They’ve shockingly reached a late-season crossroads after falling hard from “new AFC favorites” to “near AFC also-rans.”

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12. Cincinnati Bengals 6-4 (15)

The Bengals came out strong after their bye, sparked by their defense and running game. Joe Burrow got everyone settled in nicely as the season’s second half got underway. Cincinnati now has a chance at getting into the playoffs.

13. Cleveland Browns 6-5 (16)

The Browns are not completely right. Their offense is still looking for more pop while Baker Mayfield plays off the running game. His injuries are affecting him; they’re making him more of a grinding leader as he tries to keep his team in the playoff race.

14. Minnesota Vikings 5-5 (17)

The Vikings could be a lot higher in the NFC standings with better results from their early-season one-possession games, but all that has been quickly forgotten with recent wins over the Panthers, Chargers and Packers. The key to making the playoffs will be staying consistent through four quarters every game over the final two months.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers 5-4-1 (13)

The Steelers went into Los Angeles with a short-handed defense and a passing offense that couldn’t quite keep up. They must finish strong against the rest of the AFC North to return to the playoffs after winning the division last season.

16. Indianapolis Colts 6-5 (19)

The Colts are riding Jonathan Taylor and the running game, which is making things a lot easier on Carson Wentz and the defense. Frank Reich’s team is making a late surge for an AFC wild card and soon might make the Titans sweat in the South.

MORE: Five crazy stats from Jonathan Taylor’s five-TD romp over Bills

17. Las Vegas Raiders 5-5 (12)

The Raiders tried their best to make things work without Jon Gruden, but the adversity and weight of other issues have become too much, especially with Derek Carr not playing well and the running game not helping much. 

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18. San Francisco 49ers 5-5 (23)

Turns out Kyle Shanahan can coach. The offense is buzzing with better health and an on-point Jimmy Garoppolo. The defense has started to respond behind Nick Bosa. They 49ers aren’t all the way back, but they’re on the brink of being a playoff team again.

19. Philadelphia Eagles 5-6 (22)

The Eagles are starting to feel it with Jalen Hurts and the offense after a feeling-out period for Nick Sirianni. The defense is responding to Sirianni’s run-heavy approach. Don’t sleep on them stealing a wild card.

20. New Orleans Saints 5-5 (14)

The Saints are regressing to the mean after overachieving under Sean Payton. They are missing Jameis Winston more than expected and this version of the offense isn’t the same when Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill don’t get key touches. The run defense has to get well soon, too.

21. Denver Broncos 5-5 (20)

The Broncos didn’t play in Week 11 but there should be little confidence they will sneak back into the AFC playoff picture given their shaky quarterback play and crumbling defense. This might be it for Vic Fangio over the final couple months.

22. Carolina Panthers 5-6 (18)

The Panthers got more of a spark from Cam Newton but their offense is still mostly powered by Christian McCaffrey. They’re looking better on that side, but unfortunately for them, the defense keeps letting down for Matt Rhule.

MORE: Newton thanks Panthers fans for ‘good juju,’ explains 50-yard TD celebration

23. Washington Football Team 4-6 (25)

Washington might need to reconsider its future at QB given how Taylor Heinicke is playing in Scott Turner’s system, especially knowing he’s down key weapons in wide receiver Curtis Samuel and tight end Logan Thomas. Heinicke is pushing to finish the season as the starter regardless of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s injury status.

24. Atlanta Falcons 4-6 (21)

The Falcons failed to score a point in Week 11 and any good vibes that may have existed with Arthur Smith and Matt Ryan have disappeared behind the limitations of the offensive personnel. The defense needs a further overhaul, too.

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25. Seattle Seahawks 3-7 (24)

Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll aren’t getting what they need to win games anymore. The offense and defense remain out of sync. Unless the Seahawks win six of their final seven games, their streak of above-.500 seasons in the Wilson era will end at nine.

26. New York Giants 3-6 (27)

The Giants saw the Cowboys lose in Week 11, but with Washington and the Eagles both winning, it’s getting tougher for them to stay out of last place in the division after finishing second a year ago. The Buccaneers game feels like a big knockout punch.

27. Miami Dolphins 4-7 (28)

The Dolphins have gotten off the mat and can now try for a respectable finish to a disappointing follow-up season under Brian Flores. It’s a good sign that the defense is operating as the backbone again.

28. Chicago Bears 3-7 (26)

The Bears lost Justin Fields and then did their best to outlast the Jackson-less Ravens with Andy Dalton, but they simply lack firepower and experience when players such as Allen Robinson, Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson don’t play. It’s all but over for Matt Nagy and the rest of coaching staff.

FIELDS UPDATE: Nagy has ‘no idea’ about QB’s status

29. Houston Texans 2-8 (31)

The Texans showed physicality and fight out of their bye to take down the Titans in their best performance under David Culley. Tyrod Taylor is a gamer and a leader; when he’s out there, they can’t be considered pushovers.

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30. Jacksonville Jaguars 2-8 (29))

The Jaguars were dragged down even further by a smart, well-coached 49ers team that also had plenty of their fans in Jacksonville. The regression of Trevor Lawrence and the offense should lead to big changes for Year 2.

31. New York Jets 2-8 (30)

The Jets should have played more inspired defense for Robert Saleh against the Dolphins but their limited talent has become hard to overcome. The offense got a little spark from Joe Flacco and Elijah Moore, but losing fellow rookie playmaker Michael Carter hurt a lot.

32. Detroit Lions 0-9-1 (32)

The Lions again fought hard against an AFC North opponent on the road, but this time, they didn’t even have a tie to show for it. They should have a fighting chance at a happy Thanksgiving at home against the Bears.





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