The Washington Times - December 11, 2008, 12:50PM

With just a couple weeks to go in the regular season, the Giants lost to the Eagles, but maintain the top spot in our power rankings.

The top three in fact remain unchanged, with the Titans and Steelers rounding out the trio. But look who’s streaking: The Panthers and Ravens each made leaps this week after convincing wins over the Buccaneers and Redskins, respectively. And don’t forget about those fast-rising Colts, who’ve won six in a row and have Detroit lined up as this weekend’s win.

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As always, last week’s rankings (in parentheses).

Giants Jacobs

(Associated Press photo of gimpy Brandon Jacobs)

1. Giants (1): Here’s how good the Giants are: they lost top running back Brandon Jacobs to a knee injury, quarterback Eli Manning completed less than half his passes and their defense couldn’t stop Brian Westbrook but they fell to the Eagles by just 20-14. The loss, which ended a 7-game winning streak, should add motivation for Sunday’s visit to Dallas.

2. Titans (2): The Titans figure to have one eye on the scoreboard on Sunday at Houston. If they beat the Texans for an eighth straight time and Pittsburgh falls in Baltimore, they’ll wrap up homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs. In any event, the Texans are the Titans’ last sub-.500 foe since they finish against the Steelers and Ravens.

3. Steelers (3): The come-from-behind victory over Dallas extended the Steelers’ surge to four in a row which is great momentum to take into Sunday’s showdown for the AFC North lead at Baltimore. Pittsburgh will win its fifth division title in eight years by beating the Ravens, whom it need overtime to subdue in Week 4 at home.

4. Panthers (5): Now that was a truly impressive performance by Carolina’s running attack on Monday, churning out 301 yards (the second most ever against a Monte Kiffin defense) and four touchdowns in the battle for control of the NFC South against Tampa Bay. The surging Panthers won’t miss the extra day of preparation for Denver’s 26th-ranked run defense.

5. Ravens (7): Safety Ed Reed did it all against the Redskins, forcing a fumble, returning it for a touchdown and intercepting two passes, making for a relaxing night for quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense. It won’t be so easy against the Steelers, but if the Ravens can beat them a sixth straight time at home, the team will be tied atop the AFC North.

6. Buccaneers (4): It can’t be comforting for the Bucs that they have to face an even more productive run game in Atlanta on Sunday than the one that just strafed them in Charlotte. However, the electric game by receiver Antonio Bryant has to encourage them as they face the Falcons’ shaky pass defense. The Bucs pounded the Falcons 24-9 in Week 2 at home.

7. Colts (11): Hear that engine roaring down the tracks? It’s the Indianapolis Express. The Colts have reeled off six straight victories and won’t be slowed down Sunday by winless Detroit. Indy can clinch a seventh consecutive playoff spot with a victory and some losses by a couple of the AFC East co-leaders.

8. Falcons (6): Atlanta is one of the NFL’s biggest surprise teams, but after failing to hold a fourth quarter lead at New Orleans, the Falcons have yet to beat a winning team on the road, something they’ll have to if they make the playoffs as a wild card. But first things first. If they beat Tampa Bay at home on Sunday, they’ll clinch a winning season.

9. Cowboys (8): Dallas was on the verge of improving to 4-0 since quarterback Tony Romo returned from injury — and taking its hopes of winning the NFC East into this week’s visit by the Super Bowl champion Giants. But the Cowboys were outscored 17-0 by the Steelers in the fourth quarter and now face a tough road to a wild card: Giants, Ravens, at Philly.

10. Cardinals (10): Kurt Warner seems grizzled to most of his teammates, but the star quarterback was just 4 the last time the Cardinals accomplished what they did last Sunday: win a division title. And they’ll get to host a playoff game for the first time since 1947 when the franchise was in Chicago. They begin tuning up Sunday against visiting Minnesota.

11. Eagles (15): Watch out NFC East. Here come the Eagles. Again. Two year ago, Philly was left for dead with quarterback Donovan McNabb hurt and a closing schedule against all of their division rivals. Jeff Garcia led Philly to victories in all three games and a playoff spot. Monday’s game with lowly Cleveland is a pitstop en route to a possible repeat showing.

12. Jets (9): New Yorkers, depressed by Wall Street, were giddy over the prospect of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl. Not only did the Eagles stun the former last week, the latter have suffered consecutive double-digit defeats at the hands of the Broncos and 49ers. A visit by Buffalo should cure Gang Green’s woes for now, but making the Super Bowl seems far-fetched.

13. Saints (16): When Atlanta took the lead midway through the fourth quarter last week, the Saints could’ve rolled over. However, Pierre Thomas returned the kickoff 88 yards and then scored on a 7-yard run to keep playoff hope alive for the NFL’s best last-place team. New Orleans has lost six of seven outdoors heading to Chicago, but this team doesn’t quit.

14. Patriots (13): History doesn’t bode well for Sunday’s game at Oakland. The Pats stayed West in October and were spanked in San Diego after winning a battle with the 49ers. Last Sunday, New England squeaked by in Seattle so … The Raiders are 1-5 at home, even losing to Kansas City, but the win was over the Jets, who are tied with the Pats atop the AFC East.

15. Vikings (14): Passrusher Jared Allen limped to the sideline. Quarterback Gus Frerotte was carted to the locker room. Stud defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were only playing because their suspensions were under appeal. But the Vikes rallied to win on the road. OK, it was at winless Detroit. It won’t be so easy Sunday at Arizona.

16. Redskins (12): As was true in 2007, an ugly November continued into December for Washington. And like last year, everyone is counting out the battered Redskins. But the schedule is more favorable than it was in 2007 so if Clinton Portis can run behind his new tackles in Cincinnati, Washington should make it to Week 16 still in the hunt.

17. Broncos (17): Denver fulfilled its part of the deal by beating Kansas City last week. However, San Diego didn’t cooperate by losing to Oakland. So the Broncos will try to win the AFC West for just the second time in a decade by winning at Carolina on Sunday. Or maybe the Chargers will have already handed them the title by losing earlier to the Chiefs.

18. Dolphins (18): At 8-5, Miami has won more games under rookie coach Tony Sparano than it won the past two years combined. And now San Francisco, 4-10 on the road the last two years, comes calling. Getting help from Buffalo and Oakland isn’t likely, but if it occurs, the Dolphins could have the AFC East lead to themselves by beating the 49ers.

19. Bears (19): In 2006, Chicago won its first NFC title in 21 years by beating visiting New Orleans. Thursday, the Bears play host to the Saints again, knowing that a loss and a Minnesota victory Sunday at Arizona will give the Vikings the North crown. Chicago’s poor pass defense could use a stiff breeze at Soldier Field to help keep Drew Brees in check.

20. Texans (22): The gang that couldn’t get it done away from Reliant Stadium has suddenly become road warriors. Last Sunday’s comeback at Green Bay was Houston’s second straight on the road after a 4-25 record away from home dating to 2005. The Texans have lost seven straight to Tennessee, but who knows? After three straight victories, anything’s possible.

21. Chargers (21): Who were those guys who thumped Oakland 34-7 last Thursday? They sure didn’t resemble the pretenders in San Diego uniforms who had lost five of six to all but fall out of the AFC playoff race. The Chargers will need help from the Panthers and Bills the next two weeks, but they could still win the West if they go 3-0 and Denver goes 0-3.

22. 49ers (24): There was beating hapless St. Louis and edging sinking Buffalo and then there was stunning the AFC East-leading Jets for the biggest victory of Mike Singletary’s brief time in command and San Francisco’s highlight during the past two seasons. If the Niners can keep the momentum going Sunday at Miami, they could still finish .500.

23. Packers (20): Remember when Green Bay faced Dallas in Week 3 with a 2-0 record and Aaron Rodgers on top of the world? The kid QB still has better stats than hallowed predecessor Brett Favre does with the Jets except that New York is 8-5 and tied for the AFC East lead while the Pack has lost eight of 11 and can only hope for a .500 season.

24. Browns (23): Cleveland visits Philadelphia on Sunday in a matchup of the only teams to beat the defending champion Giants. The Browns beat the Giants by 21 points in Week 6. The Eagles beat the Giants by six points last week. So the Browns should win by 15 right? Try Cleveland will seal its seventh double-digit loss season since being reborn in 1999.

25. Bills (25): Which has plunged deeper in Buffalo since September, the temperature or the Bills, who have skidded from 4-0 to 6-7 after losing last Sunday’s “home” game to Miami in Toronto. Buffalo can clinch its first last-place finish in the AFC East by losing Sunday at the Jets if New England beats Oakland.

26. Seahawks (27): Seattle had New England in serious trouble, leading 21-14 in the fourth quarter at home, but the Seahawks couldn’t make the goal-line stop on fourth down with 2:44 left and dropped 2-11, giving the retiring Mike Holmgren his worst record in his 17 seasons as a head coach. Maybe the big guy can win one last game Sunday at St. Louis.

27. Jaguars (26): How low can the Jaguars, who made the divisional round in 2007, sink in 2008? How about six losses in seven weeks, including the last four by double digits? If Jacksonville, 1-5 at home, can’t beat visiting Green Bay on Sunday, it will almost surely match the franchise-worst 4-12 mark it produced as an expansion team in 1995.

28. Chiefs (28): If Herman Edwards is on the way out in Kansas City, at least he’s going out with some fight. The Chiefs followed their first road victory in more than a year by taking their contest at Denver into the fourth quarter tied. On the other hand, they blew an early 10-0 lead. Kansas City was nipped 20-19 at San Diego five weeks ago so maybe a tight rematch is in store Sunday at Arrowhead.

29. Raiders (29): Oakland had played five respectable games in a row, if winning only one, before getting trampled last Thursday in San Diego. That gave the once-feared Raiders a sixth straight season of double-digit defeats but also two extra days to prepare for this week’s visit by AFC East co-leader New England.

30. Bengals (30): Nothing like following a 34-3 thrashing by Baltimore with a 35-3 drubbing by Indianapolis, huh? Heading into Sunday’s game against Washington, Cincinnati can point to its close battles with the other NFC East teams: a tie with Philadelphia, an overtime loss to the Giants and a 9-point defeat in Dallas that was tight most of the way.

31. Rams (31): How bad is St. Louis’ NFL team? So bad that it makes the baseball Cardinals and the equally mediocre NHL Blues seem like championship outfits by comparison. How the Lambs even beat the Redskins and Cowboys back-to-back in October remains baffling in light of of their seven straight defeats since by an average margin of 20 points.

32. Lions (32): It looked like Detroit might actually win, leading Minnesota at home in the fourth quarter last Sunday. But then the Vikings woke up and dropped the Lions to 0-13. The three previous teams to go 0-13 in a 16-game season all managed to win a game, but the Lions won’t this week against red-hot Indianapolis.