Power shift

Charles Robinson
Yahoo! Sports

The Eagles are tumbling, the Falcons are still one dimensional on offense and the Panthers are just starting to get into a groove.

But right now, the Giants and Seahawks are the class of the NFC.

It was hard to believe that would be the case in the preseason, when we still didn't know what to expect from developing Eli Manning, nor the defensive additions by Seattle. But those have been two monumental factors in the rise of New York and Seattle, which both crack the top five for the first time this season.

Maybe no player has made bigger strides than Manning, whose play went from solid and encouraging late last season to downright clutch through most of this year. Meanwhile, the Seahawks' offseason acquisitions – Bryce Fisher, Chartric Darby, Jamie Sharper, Lofa Tatupu and Kelly Herndon – have helped elevate the defense and created much-needed balance.

Philadelphia and Tampa Bay went from power positions in the rankings to the bottom of the Top 12. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cleveland's loss to Houston and a brewing quarterback controversy have the Browns falling like a rock – followed closely by the Vikings.

THE TOP 12

Indianapolis
Indianapolis

1. Indianapolis Colts (7-0) – Beating New England in the playoffs matters more. Just ask Pittsburgh. But this weekend's game is the most important game on the Colts' schedule.

Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) – The latest tweak to Ben Roethlisberger's knee makes you wonder if this is going to be a season-long issue. And if Pittsburgh is going to get to the Super Bowl, the defense must jump another level.

Denver
Denver

3. Denver Broncos (6-2) – In the last six games, Jake Plummer has 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. But he's not the NFL's MVP. He might not even be his own team's MVP.

N.Y. Giants
N.Y. Giants

4. New York Giants (5-2) – The hype has died down, but Jeremy Shockey is better now than he's ever been. And if you haven't noticed, Michael Strahan hasn't lost anything from his game.

Seattle
Seattle

5. Seattle Seahawks (5-2) – It was a bye week with plenty of good news: Shaun Alexander is nearing a new contract with the club and Bobby Engram could be back in the lineup Sunday.

New England
New England

6. New England Patriots (4-3) – Are the Patriots still Super Bowl material in the AFC? Monday night's game against Indianapolis will provide the definitive answer.

Atlanta
Atlanta

7. Atlanta Falcons (5-2) – We get it. Michael Vick isn't a "conventional" quarterback. But it's ridiculous that Kyle Orton has a better passer rating and LaDainian Tomlinson has only two fewer touchdown passes.

 Cincinnati
Cincinnati

8. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) – All four NFC North quarterbacks have thrown five interceptions in a single game, three of those instances coming against the Bengals (Daunte Culpepper, Orton and Brett Favre). Cincinnati gets its shot at perfection against Detroit on Dec. 18.

Carolina
Carolina

9. Carolina Panthers (5-2) – With Steve Smith playing this way, the Panthers might not need to worry about the emergence of a No. 2 receiver. Throw out the game at Detroit, and Jake Delhomme has thrown 10 touchdowns and two interceptions since Sept. 25.

Dallas
Dallas

10. Dallas Cowboys (5-3) – Bill Parcells has culled some fine talent beyond the first round of the draft: Julius Jones, Jason Witten, Marion Barber, Patrick Crayton, Rob Petitti, Al Johnson and Bradie James.

Philadelphia
Philadelphia

11. Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) – The pass rush is atrocious. With that in mind, has anyone noticed that former Philly defensive end Derrick Burgess has seven sacks for the Raiders?

Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) – Brian Griese doesn't seem like such a terrible starter anymore, does he? The offense's struggles are just beginning.

RISING

San Diego
San Diego

San Diego Chargers (4-4) – San Diego has had this game circled since last season's playoff loss to the Jets. Rookies Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman gave the pass rush a boost last weekend with 3½ sacks.

THE MUDDLED MIDDLE (in alphabetical order)

Baltimore
Baltimore

Baltimore Ravens (2-5) – The little tiff between Derrick Mason and Anthony Wright won't matter in the long run. Kyle Boller could be the starter again by the end of this week.

Buffalo
Buffalo

Buffalo Bills (3-5) – Despite the loss, the offense was productive against the Patriots. But the assumed rise of Lee Evans into one of the league's best No. 2 receivers is taking far longer than expected.

Chicago
Chicago

Chicago Bears (4-3) – The loss of Mark Bradley is huge. Not only did he seem to have a great rapport with Kyle Orton, but he also showed flashes of being one of the steals of the draft.

Detroit
Detroit

Detroit Lions (3-4) – Jeff Garcia took some veiled shots at the offensive line after Sunday's loss to Chicago. Rick DeMulling is one of the biggest free-agent disappointments.

Jacksonville
Jacksonville

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3) – Like it or not, last year's fourth-round wideout, Ernest Wilford, is a better player then last year's first-round receiver, Reggie Williams. The Jaguars need to do what's best for the team and start Wilford.

Kansas City
Kansas City

Kansas City Chiefs (4-3) – With a defense that has surrendered around 400 yards in three of the last four games, this is starting to look a lot like the same old Chiefs.

Miami
Miami

Miami Dolphins (3-4) – If anyone hasn't figured it out by now, Ronnie Brown should be getting more than 20 touches every game.

N.Y. Jets
N.Y. Jets

New York Jets (2-5) – Herm Edwards threatened to bench players this week if they don't start playing better. What took so long? On the bright side, Jay Fiedler's return is in sight.

Oakland
Oakland

Oakland Raiders (3-4) – Jerry Porter scored his first touchdowns of the season Sunday, then joked, "I don't show up until Week 8 anyway." Funny how if Randy Moss had made the same joke, we would be beside ourselves ripping him.

St. Louis
St. Louis

St. Louis Rams (4-4) – The Joe Vitt/Steve Fairchild combination has worked wonders with a banged-up team. With all due respect to Mike Anderson, Jerome Bettis and Willis McGahee, Steven Jackson might be the most powerful running back in the NFL.

San Francisco
San Francisco

San Francisco 49ers (2-5) – Bryant Young for the Pro Bowl. With eight sacks in seven games, it's not unthinkable.

Tennessee
Tennessee

Tennessee Titans (2-6) – Is it just me, or does Jeff Fisher complain about bad calls more than any coach in the league?

Washington
Washington

Washington Redskins (4-3) – The defense absolutely needs Cornelius Griffin healthy, or the problems against the run are going to continue. David Patten has been a tremendous disappointment.

FALLING

Minnesota
Minnesota

Minnesota Vikings (2-5) – Fred Smoot might be the worst thing to happen to the Vikings this season. And to think, they doled out a $34 million contract and a $10.8 million signing bonus for these problems.

THE BOTTOM FIVE

Arizona
Arizona

28. Arizona Cardinals (2-5) – Anquan Boldin's bone bruise should be a huge relief. And no, it won't be long before Dennis Green turns the offense back to Kurt Warner again.

New Orleans
New Orleans

29. New Orleans Saints (2-6) – Too bad owner Tom Benson can't instill his feistiness into the Saints. Even with the surrounding issues, Jim Haslett's job is again in jeopardy.

Cleveland
Cleveland

30. Cleveland Browns (2-5) – It's officially time to get Braylon Edwards into the starting lineup. And maybe Charlie Frye, too.

Green Bay
Green Bay

31. Green Bay Packers (1-6) – The Packers should be irate over Sunday's fan incident in Cincinnati. But it's hard to believe Green Bay could have pulled out a win anyway.

Houston
Houston

32. Houston Texans (1-6) – In a season in need of bright spots, Jerome Mathis is making good on his raw talent. If Andre Johnson were healthy, the offense might have some solid options for David Carr.

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