Thanksgiving is here, and the playoff races are heating up. The NFL’s best teams are trying to impress before heading into the postseason.
There is a surprising lack of middling teams this season, and there is a sharp divide between impressive teams and disappointing ones.
Here are my power rankings heading into the Week 12 matchups.
1. San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1)
Despite the Chicago Bears’ play this year, San Francisco still has the best defense in the league, and the sky appears to be the limit for Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco has the most balance and depth of any team in the NFL.
2. Houston Texans (9-1)
Houston’s awful start to its game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was concerning, but the league’s best teams find a way to win when they are not playing well. That is exactly what the Texans did, and they too have exceptional balance and depth.
3. Green Bay Packers (7-3)
After a poor start to the season, Aaron Rodgers is on fire and the Packers are on a five-game winning streak. Their success has come despite injuries to several stars, and this team will be scary when everyone is healthy again.
4. Atlanta Falcons (9-1)
Atlanta was the NFL’s last unbeaten team, but they looked vulnerable far before dropping to the New Orleans Saints. Even with the their impressive record, the Falcons have shown little in recent weeks to suggest that they are not headed towards another loss in their first playoff game.
5. Denver Broncos (7-3)
Denver has also won five games in a row, and the team’s defense has been equally as impressive as Peyton Manning. Given the competition they are facing in their division, the Broncos can go into cruise control until the postseason.
6. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
The team has overcome injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb and has not missed a beat. After their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the injury to Ben Roethlisberger, they too appear ready to cruise to a division title.
7. New England Patriots (7-3)
Tom Brady will ensure that the Patriots do not fall too far without Rob Gronkowski. Once Gonk is healthy again, the team will be ready for another deep postseason run.
8. Chicago Bears (7-3)
The Bears' pass protection looks like a serious issue, and the 49ers showed how vulnerable this team can be when its opposition hold on to the ball. Chicago is not as complete of a team as it looked to be at the start of the season.
9. New York Giants (6-4)
It's the time of year when Eli Manning and the Giants start to look like a Super Bowl-caliber team again. A showdown with the Packers will shed light on their ability to make another late-season surge.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
Greg Schiano has made a massive difference for this team. Running the ball with Doug Martin and playing tough defense looks like an excellent strategy to get this team into the playoffs.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
The defense is already playing incredibly well, and it will likely need to step up even more with the team’s quarterback situation. If Pittsburgh’s offense gets healthy, it will start to climb back up the rankings.
12. New Orleans Saints (5-5)
This team has made an incredible turnaround since its 0-4 star, and momentum can be a dangerous force in the NFL. As Drew Brees continues to heat up, the Saints are one of the few team with the potential to be a late-season surprise.
13. Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
The Colts should not be overly concerned about the blowout they suffered against New England. It proves that they are not on the level of the elite teams, and neither is any other squad this far down the list.
14. Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
Seattle’s talented defense will ensure that they remain in the hunt for a wild-card spot, but this team does not appear to have the firepower on offense to reach the playoffs.
15. Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
The Vikings may be proud of their record thus far, but they are about to head into a brutal finish to their 2012 campaign. The playoff picture will start to look bleaker and bleaker as the season goes on in Minnesota.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
A.J. Green is climbing increasingly close to the Larry Fiztgerald and Calvin Johnson tier, and the Bengals just may be able to sneak into the playoffs if they can continue their current hot streak.
17. Detroit Lions (4-6)
Calvin Johnson is leading the league in receiving yards. He continues to remind NFL teams that regardless of how many defenders they assign to him, he will still be productive. If the rest of the Lions team plays consistently, they are capable of making a late run.
18. Washington Redskins (4-6)
Robert Griffin III is another player who can singlehandedly destroy a defense in any given matchup. The Redskins have plenty of problems, but their star quarterback is capable of hiding most of them when he plays well.
19. Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
This team has far too many flaws to play consistently, and any sign that it is about to go on a run will be followed by a disappointing performance.
20. St. Louis Rams (3-6-1)
The Rams defense and running game provide this team with an excellent foundation, but the groundwork Jeff Fisher has laid will not pay off until next season at the earliest.
21. San Diego Chargers (4-6)
Another frustrating season seems inevitable at this point, and the only question remaining is if this will be the final straw for Norv Turner.
22. Miami Dolphins (4-6)
The Dolphins also have an excellent foundation with a strong defense, talented running backs and a promising rookie quarterback. While these are promising signs for the future, the present offers little reason to get excited.
23. Arizona Cardinals (4-6)
The deficiencies along the offensive line are far too crippling for the defense to make up for. If the Ryan Lindley experiment works out this year, it will be shocking.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7)
A truly terrible season would be the only thing that could get Andy Reid fired, and the Eagles are in the midst of one right now.
25. New York Jets (4-6)
With an aging defense and an embarrassing lack of talent on the other side of the ball, the Jets will have problems both this year and in the future.
26. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
Tennessee has shown signs of life, but a poor defense and nowhere near enough firepower to compensate for it will lead to several more losses before the season is over.
27. Buffalo Bills (4-6)
This was supposed to be the season the Bills finally returned to the playoffs. That is clearly not going to happen, and management will have a long offseason to analyze what went wrong.
28. Carolina Panthers (2-8)
A coaching change and a few smart draft picks could cause rapid improvement in this team next year, but there is no hope left for this season.
29. Oakland Raiders (3-7)
The road back to prominence for the Raiders appears to be extremely long. It appears as if Oakland will be spending a few more years as an irrelevant team.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-8)
Cleveland can look forward to another high draft pick to pair with top talents they have been collecting over the years.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
The team has a chance to improve given the way Chad Henne looked against the Texans, but Jaguars fans should still be cautiously optimistic.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-9)
Trades, firings and screaming fits from the ownership are in the near future in Kansas City.