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NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Chiefs leap to No. 1 for first time all season; Cowboys hit a new high

Welcome back to the big chair, Big Red.

For the first time this season, Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs sit atop the NFL Power Rankings. The Chiefs jumped the Eagles after another masterful performance from Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce sparked a comeback win over the Chargers on Sunday Night Football. Confession time: Island-game masterpieces are a bit of a cheat code ’round these parts.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs aren’t the only team in uncharted territory. The Cowboys, fresh off a surprising demolition of the Vikings, jump into the top three for the first time this season.

Throw in a bounce-back performance from the Bills and a Mexico City molly wop by the 49ers, and this is the most confident we’ve felt about the top five all season.

What could possibly go wrong?

Don’t forget to check out the NFL Power Rankings Podcast with Dan Hanzus and Colleen Wolfe. New episodes every Tuesday all season long.

NOTE: Up/down arrows below reflect team movement from the Week 11 Power Rankings.

Kansas City Chiefs

Previous rank: No. 2

When Patrick Mahomes took the field with 1:46 to play, two timeouts and his team trailing by four points to the Chargers on Sunday Night Football, NBC flashed up an absurd graphic stating the Chiefs had — analytically speaking — a 24 percent chance to win the game. It was silly in the moment and downright laughable after Mahomes rolled down the field in five plays, before connecting on a third touchdown pass to Travis Kelce in a 30-27 win at SoFi Stadium. Kelce, 33, is having one of his finest seasons and he’s been especially unstoppable in front of the biggest audiences: Eight of his league-leading 11 TDs have come in prime-time games.

Philadelphia Eagles

Previous rank: No. 1

The Eagles saw their dreams of an undefeated season go up in smoke against the Commanders in Week 10. On Sunday, they were staring down a two-game losing streak — but the offense came to life just in time. Jalen Hurts led Philly to two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the final score coming on a QB draw with 80 seconds to play to seal a 17-16 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Eagles have won seven straight regular-season road games dating back to last year and now sit a game ahead of the Vikings in the race for the top seed in the NFC. “Lots to clean up, for sure,” center Jason Kelce said, acknowledging Philly’s sleepy first three quarters. “We played a bad game on offense.”

Dallas Cowboys

Previous rank: No. 8

That is what you call a certified Statement Game. The Cowboys went up to Minneapolis and lit up the Vikings in a 40-3 win that put the whole of the NFC on notice and buried the disappointment of the previous week’s defeat to the Packers. Dak Prescott was sharp, the defense was dominant, Brett Maher drilled a 60-yard field goal (two, really), and Tony Pollard once again reminded us we are living in a post-Zeke world when talking about the most important player in the Dallas backfield. Up next is a Thanksgiving date with a Giants team that should be nervous about getting the Cowboys at this moment.

Buffalo Bills

Previous rank: No. 5

The most trying stretch of the Bills’ season entered theater-of-the-absurd territory when a massive snowstorm buried Western New York and forced the team to move shop to Detroit for a “home” game against the Browns. The Bills then played like a team that had literally shoveled its way out of Buffalo in the first half before finding itself in a 31-23 win at Ford Field. The emergence of the running game was notable: The Bills dialed up a season-high 33 runs for 171 yards — James Cook and Devin Singletary each rushed for 86 yards in the win. We’ll see if Buffalo commits to this new balance on offense on Thanksgiving against the Lions.

San Francisco 49ers

Previous rank: No. 7

When this offense is healthy and humming — as it was on Monday Night Football in Mexico City — it can feel unfair. Christian McCaffrey. Deebo Samuel. George Kittle. Brandon Aiyuk. Elijah Mitchell. It’s an embarrassment of riches for Jimmy Garoppolo, who got the ball into the hands of his playmakers with expert proficiency in a 38-10 wipeout of the overmatched Cardinals. Garoppolo threw four touchdown passes without a turnover and regularly connected with wide-open receivers running free against an Arizona defense that packed it in by the fourth quarter. Add in a physical and imposing defense, and this team is ready for liftoff.

Tennessee Titans

Previous rank: No. 9

Thursday night’s 27-17 win at Green Bay was the best evidence yet that Tennessee should be viewed as a serious Super Bowl contender. This largely goes back to the long-overdue arrival of the passing game: Ryan Tannehill was excellent, carving up the Packers’ secondary with precision and showing no ill-effects from the high ankle sprain that cost him time. Rookie Treylon Burks went over 100 yards for the first time thanks to the dagger 51-yard catch-and-run in the final minutes, Robert Woods moved the sticks with big catches, and Austin Hooper was nails in the red zone with two scores. Derrick Henry will remain the heart of the Titans’ attack, but this is the type of balance that lifts the ceiling in Nashville.

Miami Dolphins

Previous rank: No. 4

Dolphins management is on a heater in their personnel game. Recent draft picks like Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle are looking like masterstrokes, while Tyreek Hill has lived up to his gaudy price tag on a weekly basis. Now look at the rebuilt backfield: Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert — both 49ers reserves a year ago — have formed a formidable 1-2 punch that’s helped make Miami’s sizzling attack unstoppable. Wilson — acquired at the trade deadline — has been especially productive, accounting for 215 total yards and two touchdowns on 31 touches in his first two games in teal. Mike McDaniel has a growing bag of toys that would make Santa jealous.

Baltimore Ravens

Previous rank: No. 6

Should we be worried about the Ravens’ offense? It’s fair to ask the question after John Harbaugh needed a huge effort from his defense to grind out a 13-3 win over the Panthers. Baltimore’s only touchdown in the game came on a 1-yard run from Lamar Jackson set up by a Marcus Peters forced fumble deep in Carolina territory. Tight end Mark Andrews made his presence felt in his return to the lineup, but the Ravens simply need to get more from their passing game on days when their prolific rushing attack is held in check. They survived Sunday because the opponent was subpar. It won’t always be that way.

Minnesota Vikings

Previous rank: No. 3

An afternoon that began with deafening “Skol!” chants and sky-high confidence ended with a half-empty stadium and a 40-3 defeat that makes you wonder how good these Vikings really are despite their stellar win-loss record. There was no one culprit in the stunning blowout to the Cowboys: Kirk Cousins was under constant duress, Justin Jefferson was largely neutralized, and the defense had no answers for Dallas’ passing or run game. “This league has a way of humbling any football team at any point in time if you don’t play good football,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said after the carnage. Yep, a Bury The Ball game if ever there was one.

Cincinnati Bengals

Previous rank: No. 11

Joe Burrow, in case you might have forgotten, is that dude. The Bengals quarterback didn’t have Ja’Marr Chase (hip) for the third straight week and he was forced to find a way on Sunday without Joe Mixon, the star running back who exited the game with a concussion. Burrow was nails anyway, throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-30 win over a stubborn Steelers team. Patrick Mahomes feels like the favorite in the NFL MVP race, but don’t be surprised if Burrow makes a charge along with the rest of the Bengals in the season’s final weeks. Speaking of Chase, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Monday that the star wideout is on target to return to practice this week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Previous rank: No. 12

The win in Germany was a huge lift for the Bucs, who hit the bye at .500 and alone in first place in the soggy NFC South. Now we’ll see if the offense can build off what went right in Munich. Specifically, the Bucs’ league-worst rushing attack finally got off the mat in a 161-yard effort. The ground game was led by rookie Rachaad White, who went over 100 yards rushing for the first time in his career. Leonard Fournette exited the win in Munich with a hip issue, and it’s unclear if the veteran will be limited in Week 12. Either way, White deserves a greater workload going forward.

Seattle Seahawks

Previous rank: No. 14

The Seahawks come out of their bye in great shape. Geno Smith has been a revelation at QB, rookie Kenneth Walker III is a home-run hitter at running back, the offensive line has been solid and the defense has found its way after a rocky start. Well, the D had found its way until it ran into Tom Brady in Munich. The Bucs converted on 10 of 13 third downs in non kneel-down situations during the 21-16 loss for the ‘Hawks, the unwelcome return of a team weakness. Seattle surrendered conversions at nearly a 50 percent rate in the first five weeks before knocking that down to 34.4 percent during the four-game winning streak. Let’s see if Pete Carroll’s defense can get off the field on Sunday against the Raiders.

New England Patriots

Previous rank: No. 15

The Patriots may not be the juggernaut they once were, but they remain King Kong when a young and vulnerable quarterback enters their airspace. New England’s defense completely erased Zach Wilson and the New York offense on a windy day in Foxborough, but continued issues for the Pats’ own attack necessitated the emergence of a hero. Enter rookie Marcus Jones, whose 84-yard punt return TD with under 30 seconds to play won the game and gave Patriots fans their most electrifying moment of the season. The Pats are in playoff position with a huge test looming against the 8-2 Vikings on Thanksgiving night.

New York Jets

Previous rank: No. 10

What is about the Patriots that brings out the worst in young Jets quarterbacks? Zach Wilson was abysmal in Sunday’s 10-3 loss at Foxborough, leading the offense to 2 total yards in the second half before Marcus Jones’ stunning punt return crushed Gang Green in the final seconds. On Monday, Robert Saleh opened the door to a quarterback change. “We’re keeping everything on the table the next couple of days,” the coach said. If Wilson gets the call on Sunday against the Bears, he’ll be under enormous pressure to produce. This is a coach challenging his young passer while acknowledging the concerns of a frustrated locker room.

New York Giants

Previous rank: No. 13

Was Sunday a bad day for the Giants … or the beginning of a reality check? Big Blue welcomed the Lions to the Meadowlands and were outplayed on both sides of the ball in a 31-18 loss. Saquon Barkley was bottled up by Detroit’s improving defense, while Daniel Jones threw his first interceptions since Week 3. Throw in some lackluster run defense — Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift combined for four scores for Detroit — and you had the recipe for a disappointing afternoon in chilly East Rutherford. The Giants don’t have much time to lick their wounds: They’ll head to Dallas on Thanksgiving for a matchup with the dangerous Cowboys.

Washington Commanders

Previous rank: No. 17

The Commanders are a thing in the NFC playoff race. That’s the only reasonable deduction after a 23-10 win over the moribund Texans moved Washington over the .500 mark for the first time since the season-opening win over Jacksonville. That’s five wins in six weeks for the Commanders, with four wins in five starts for Taylor Heinicke. After the game, Ron Rivera made it clear that this is Heinicke’s job as long as the team continues to win. “We are going to go with Taylor, and we’ll work Carson (Wentz) back in and see where Carson is in terms of when he’s ready to be the backup,” the coach said. “Then, we’ll go from there.” Wentz has been sidelined since mid-October by a finger injury.

Los Angeles Chargers

Previous rank: No. 18

Another heartbreaker for the Bolts. Brandon Staley’s team went toe-to-toe with the mighty Chiefs for four quarters on Sunday Night Football, but they couldn’t solve the eternal Patrick Mahomes-to-Travis Kelce conundrum in a 30-27 loss that effectively puts the AFC West division race to bed. Keenan Allen finally looked like his old self in his return to the lineup, but Mike Williams’ own return was short-lived due to more ankle issues. There’s a really compelling AFC contender hidden away within the Chargers … we know this. But time is running out to bring that side of the team to the forefront.

Detroit Lions

Previous rank: No. 21

The Detroit Lions are ready to move beyond the “lovable loser” phase of their development. Dan Campbell’s Grit Warriors continued their ascent on Sunday, outplaying the Giants on both sides of the ball in a 31-18 win at MetLife Stadium. Detroit is suddenly in second place in the NFC North and within striking distance in the NFC wild-card race. The Lions rushed for 160 yards and four touchdowns against the Giants, three of the scores courtesy of, um, NFL touchdown leader Jamaal Williams. Bet you didn’t have that in your preseason prediction column. Said Jared Goff of Williams: “He’s our horse.”

Green Bay Packers

Previous rank: No. 16

The win over the Cowboys was supposed to be the jumping-off point for a second-half renaissance. Instead, the Packers are right back where they started after a deeply disappointing 27-17 loss in the prime time to the Titans. Green Bay’s defense largely neutralized Derrick Henry, but didn’t have an answer for a previously dormant Tennessee passing attack. Then there was the issue of Aaron Rodgers, who followed up a brilliant outing against Dallas with another head-scratching game of misfires in key moments. After the loss, Randall Cobb acknowledged the desperation of a supposed superpower that finds itself on the canvas before Thanksgiving: “You lose another one, and you might as well say we’re probably out [of the playoffs].” Accurate.

Atlanta Falcons

Previous rank: No. 22

The Falcons kept themselves in the NFC playoff picture with a 27-24 win over the Bears, but the victory came at a cost. Tight end Kyle Pitts was placed on injured reserve Monday after an MRI revealed what is believed to be a torn MCL that’s likely to require surgery. It’s another frustrating layer to a difficult second season for the former No. 4 overall pick, who has rarely seemed to be on the same page with quarterback Marcus Mariota. “He has such a huge impact on this team,” Arthur Smith said. “I know the numbers aren’t as gaudy as they were as a rookie and he’s been playing through a lot, and he’s a tough guy and he has had a huge impact.” We’d say the Falcons would run the ball more with Pitts on the shelf, but that might not be possible for a team that has already logged 110 more carries than throws so far this season.

New Orleans Saints

Previous rank: No. 23

There will be no talk of a quarterback controversy in New Orleans this week. That might be as big a victory as the one the Saints got on the field Sunday, a 27-20 conquest over the Rams that all but extinguished any lingering playoff hopes for the defending champs. Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes and posted a career-best passer rating of 149.6 in an outing that will quiet the Jameis Winston chatter for the time being. His top receiver was Chris Olave, who caught a long touchdown pass and went over 100 yards for the third time this season. The Offensive Rookie of the Year résumé is growing.

Arizona Cardinals

Previous rank: No. 19

The Cardinals looked disinterested against the 49ers on Monday in Mexico City. By the end of a 38-10 shellacking, after multiple Arizona players made “business decisions” on George Kittle’s catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter, Troy Aikman had seen enough from the ESPN booth. “This is embarrassing for the Arizona Cardinals,” the Hall of Famer said. “They’re a losing football team and they’re playing like one on that play.” It’s just one play, of course, but it speaks to bigger concerns about the culture in Arizona under Kliff Kingsbury. Lack of effort. Lack of results. Maybe we’ll see some accountability on Hard Knocks.

Chicago Bears

Previous rank: No. 20

The rise of Justin Fields has been the single most important development of the 2022 season for the Bears. Now, the dynamic QB’s uncertain health has put all that optimism on hold. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Fields sustained a left shoulder dislocation during Sunday’s loss to the Falcons. Fields finished the game in considerable pain, and coach Matt Eberflus described Fields as “day to day” on Monday. With the Bears facing the Jets and their relentless pass rush in Week 12, it could make sense to give Fields a week to recover. Of course, Chicago will purposely keep an air of mystery around the situation as game day approaches.

Cleveland Browns

Previous rank: No. 24

The Cleveland Browns are a weird little outfit, aren’t they? You never know which version of Kevin Stefanski’s team will show up. On Sunday at Ford Field, we got both Jekyll and Hyde. Cleveland came out moving the ball up and down the field on the Bills, while Josh Allen struggled to find his footing against an active Browns defense. At one point in the second quarter, Cleveland had 10 first downs to Buffalo’s 12 total yards. The Bills eventually took control of the game, but it was a reminder the Browns have been very competitive for most of the season. The playoffs might be a pipe dream, but adding Deshaun Watson to the mix could make Cleveland a tough out down the stretch.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Previous rank: No. 25

The Steelers remain very much under construction. Pittsburgh had its two longest offensive touchdown plays of the season in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals — a 19-yard touchdown run by Najee Harris and a 24-yard touchdown catch by George Pickens — but the Kenny Pickett-led attack also disappeared for extended stretches, most noticeably during a third quarter in which Pittsburgh failed to register a first down. The defense was similarly scattershot. The Steelers constantly pressured Joe Burrow and grabbed two interceptions, but they still surrendered touchdown drives of 79, 92 and 93 yards despite the absence of Ja’Marr Chase (hip) from the Bengals’ lineup.

Las Vegas Raiders

Previous rank: No. 29

That had to feel incredible for Derek Carr and the Raiders. In a season defined by crushing losses in the final seconds, Carr’s 35-yard touchdown hookup with Davante Adams on the third play of overtime ensured Vegas would avoid being on the nail end of the hammer for once. Lots has gone wrong for Las Vegas in this lost season, but the Carr-to-Adams chemistry has been as good as advertised: Adams is up to 10 touchdowns on the season and has three games with at least 100 yards and two scores. If you’re having a conversation about the best wide receiver in football, Adams’ name must be raised.

Indianapolis Colts

Previous rank: No. 27

The Colts very nearly moved to 2-0 under interim head coach Jeff Saturday, but a disappearing act by the offense doomed Indy in a 17-16 loss to the Eagles at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts totaled 75 yards on their game-opening touchdown drive … then averaged just 20.9 yards per drive and scored nine points total for the rest of the game. When Jalen Hurts went untouched into the end zone in the final minute, it was another Indy opportunity lost in a season filled with them. “That’s a tough one to swallow,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Make no mistake, that’s a good football team. We did a lot of really good things, but we made too many mistakes and that one feels like we let it get away.”

Los Angeles Rams

Previous rank: No. 26

The Rams have a Super Bowl hangover that’s going to take a lot more than Advil and a greasy burger to cure. A 27-20 loss to the Saints at the Superdome all but erased whatever playoff chances remained for the defending champs. To make matters worse, Matthew Stafford — who missed Week 10 and didn’t clear concussion protocol until Friday — was taken to the locker room in the second half for another concussion evaluation. Given the team’s poor record and continued absence of Cooper Kupp, it will be very surprising if the Rams don’t manage Stafford’s health with exceeding caution moving forward.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Previous rank: No. 28

The Jaguars caught criticism during free agency when they handed out a rich contract to wide receiver Christian Kirk, who had been productive but not especially explosive during his four years with the Cardinals. Cut to the end of November, and Kirk now has the look of a wise investment. The wideout caught his seventh touchdown pass of the season in Week 10’s loss to the Chiefs and is on pace for nearly 90 receptions and more than 1,100 yards in his first season in Duval. Most promising, Kirk has clearly won the trust of Trevor Lawrence, the quarterback who targets his No. 1 option in money time every week. That’s a free-agent hit if you ask us.

Denver Broncos

Previous rank: No. 30

Week 11 brought more of the same for the lost Broncos offense, which flashed signs of life early before another deep hibernation in a 22-16 overtime loss to the Raiders. Russell Wilson failed to throw a touchdown pass against one of the league’s worst passing defenses, while Melvin Gordon had yet another goal-line fumble to help doom a promising drive before halftime. On Monday, the Broncos cut ties with Gordon, who is the team’s leader in carries (90), yards (318) and — yes — fumbles (5) this season. The changes are sure to continue for the disappointing Broncos in the weeks and months to come.

Carolina Panthers

Previous rank: No. 31

We don’t know if Steve Wilks has a realistic chance at holding onto the big chair in Carolina after his interim run ends in January, but Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Ravens showed he remains a coach capable of getting the best out of a defense. The Panthers entered the game as heavy underdogs, but were tied 3-3 before turnovers tilted the contest to Baltimore. The path to a 2022 debut for Sam Darnold could be clear after yet another uninspired start by Baker Mayfield. Please try to contain your excitement. 

Houston Texans

Previous rank: No. 32

You can make a case for a few teams when debating the best team in the NFL right now. It’s less of a debate when singling out which is the worst. The Texans remain stuck on one win after a 23-10 loss to the Commanders in which the offense managed just 148 total yards and were outgained 246-5 in the first half, the fewest net yards in a half in franchise history. “There’s not a whole lot that we’re doing well,” coach Lovie Smith said after Houston’s fifth straight loss. “We’re building. We’re not quite there yet. We’re not a good football team right now.” He said it.

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