2. San Francisco 49ers, 10-2. The San Francisco 49ers are a league surprise, led by fiery first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. They recovered nicely from a Week 12 loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a 26-0 win over the St. Louis Rams. The 49ers have already clinched the division crown, and running back Frank Gore is perhaps the biggest reason for their success, as he is averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the season and is fifth overall in the NFL in rushing. The other reason is the stingy 49ers defense, as they have allowed the least points in the NFL (161). The 49ers travel to face the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.
3. Baltimore Ravens, 9-3. The Baltimore Ravens may be the best team in the AFC. They have defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers twice to sweep the season series, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Houston Texans, but have also lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks,
which shows a lack of focus. They continue to be one of the more dominant teams in the league on defense, led by the ageless wonder linebacker Ray Lewis, who missed the last three games. The Ravens are the third-stingiest defense in the NFL, allowing only 192 points in 12
games. Their offense, led by quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice, will ultimately decide if they can make a Super Bowl run. The Ravens host the win less Indianapolis Colts, who should remain win less after this game.
4. New Orleans Saints, 9-3. Back-to-back quality wins over the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions show that the New Orleans Saints are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Led by quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints have the second-highest scoring offense in the NFL with 393
points. The Saints do leave a lot to be desired defensively, and when their offense struggles, they are vulnerable. Still, their offense will keep them in any game against any opponent in the NFL. The Saints travel to face the Tennessee Titans Sunday.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers, 9-3. In an AFC that appears to be wide open, the Steelers, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive back Troy Polamalu, have the ability to perform in the clutch, which makes them a contender to reach the Super Bowl. They must hope the
Baltimore Ravens lose again, because although the two teams are tied, the Steelers lost both games to the Ravens, which gives them the tie breaker. The Steelers host the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football.
6. New England Patriots, 9-3. Quarterback Tom Brady has the New England Patriots again contending for a Super Bowl, and have won four in a row and are fighting for the overall number one seed in the AFC. Losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants exposed some of
the weaknesses of the Patriots, but an easy schedule should easily lead them to a division crown. The Patriots travel to face the Washington Redskins Sunday.
7. Houston Texans, 9-3. With the foot injury to Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, and a fractured collarbone for backup quarterback Matt Leinart, third-string quarterbackTJ Yates led the Texans to a win Sunday. The Texans have the second-highest-scoring offense in the AFC, led by two top running backs, Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who have combined for over 1,700 yards in 12 games. The Texans are experiencing their best season in franchise history and appear on pace to win their first-ever division crown. The Texans travel to face the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.
8. Detroit Lions, 7-5. The Detroit Lions have lost five of seven since their 5-0 start. With quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson leading the offense, and defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh (who will miss his second-straight game due to suspension) and Nick Fairley leading the defense, this young team will be making noise for the foreseeable future. The Lions also have shown the ability to come back from large deficits, so they are never out of a game. The Lions host the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.
9. Denver Broncos. Since inserting quarterback Tim Tebow into the starting lineup, the Denver Broncos are 6-1. A strong running game lead by Willis McGahee, who is in the top 10 in rushing in the NFL, combined with Tebow’s leadership skills, have led the Broncos to win
six games by 33 points, including four by four or less points. The Broncos host the struggling Chicago Bears, who have lost their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, and leading rusher, Matt Forte.
10. Cincinnati Bengals. Led by rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals are one of the biggest surprises in the league, and have a great shot at making the playoffs. A favorable schedule, especially if the Baltimore Ravens have nothing to play for in the last game of
the season, may lead the Bengals to a wild card playoff berth if they handle business versus Houston, St. Louis, and Arizona.