Once a week, Tony breaks down the balance of power in the National Football League.

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS [up from 2]
Overall record: 11-2
Streak: Won five
I have to give NFL Network analyst Sterling Sharpe credit. In the first quarter of the season, when everyone one – including me – was chastising the Patriots’ young defence, Sharpe stated that this unit would greatly improve by the end of the year. Well, Sharpe has been bang on. It’s not that the Patriots’ defence has been dominant, but rather it's making plays at critical moments. The test, of course, will be to see if this crew can keep it together if the Patriots ever fall behind. Considering how quarterback Tom Brady is playing, that may not happen again this year.
2. ATLANTA FALCONS [down from 1]
Overall record: 11-2
Streak: Won seven
The most underrated part of this winning streak has been the play of running back Michael Turner, who has rushed for 708 yards and 10 touchdowns in this stretch.
3. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS [unchanged]
Overall record: 10-3
Streak: Won six
Quarterback Drew Brees has thrown at least one interception in his last nine games. I realize it hasn’t hurt the Saints to this point, but trust me, he can’t afford many mistakes when the Saints face stiffer competition down the stretch and in the playoffs.
4. PITTSBURGH STEELERS [unchanged]
Overall record: 10-3
Streak: Won four
Being a Cowboys fan, I loathe the Steelers. However, even I can’t deny the greatness of safety Troy Polamalu. It’s remarkable watching him position himself at the right spot play after play. The Hall of Fame will be calling you, Troy, five years after you retire.
5. BALTIMORE RAVENS [unchanged]
Overall record: 9-4
Streak: Won one
The Ravens blew a 15-point lead to Houston, giving up drives of 99 and 95 yards. Fortunately, cornerback Josh Wilson saved Baltimore with a pick-six in overtime. I’ll say it again: this is not a championship calibre defence.
6. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES [up from 9]
Overall record: 9-4
Streak: Won two
I’m going off the board with my praise for the Eagles. Yes, running back LeSean McCoy and receiver DeSean Jackson killed the Cowboys with big plays. But left tackle Todd Herremans did an outstanding job opening up holes for McCoy and company, especially when the Eagles closed out the game at the end with nothing but runs.
7. N.Y. GIANTS [up from 10]
Overall record: 9-4
Streak: Won three
Eli Manning is fortunate those two picks he threw were against Minnesota. He won’t be so fortunate Sunday if he makes the same turnovers when Philly pays a visit to New Jersey.
8. N.Y. JETS [down from 6]
Overall record: 9-4
Streak: Lost two
The Jets have now failed to score a touchdown in their last nine quarters. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is reverting back to his rookie season, while strength coach Sal Alosi is resorting to tripping an opposing player. Still think this team is a Super Bowl contender? I sure don’t.
9.CHICAGO BEARS [down from 7]
Overall record: 9-4
Streak: Lost one
Last week I asked if this team was for real. After getting thumped by the Patriots on their home turf, I believe the Bears have proven to be frauds.
10. GREEN BAY PACKERS [down from 8]
Overall record: 8-5
Streak: Lost one
Talk about rotten timing. First, the Packers lose quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a concussion and drop a crucial game to the Lions. And now Green Bay must travel east to take on the smoking hot Patriots. Let’s just say I don’t like their chances. The Packers’ brass should be taken to task for not trading for Marshawn Lynch when they had the opportunity, along with the coaching staff for allowing Rodgers to absorb so much punishment.
11. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS [up from 12]
Overall record: 8-5
Streak: Won two
A victory in Indianapolis would not only secure the AFC South title for the Jaguars, but it will eliminate the Colts from playoff contention for the first time since 2002.
12. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS [up from 13]
Overall record: 8-5
Streak: Won one
The Bucs had quite the lucky streak going on Sunday. They get by Washington by the skin of their teeth, and then learn that the Packers, another team vying for a possible wild card berth, were surprisingly taken out in Detroit.
13. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS [up from 15]
Overall record: 7-6
Streak: Won one
The Chargers could look back at the loss to the Raiders at home as the game that cost them the AFC West. Needing to win the remaining three games, plus pray for another Kansas City loss, San Diego is at the mercy of the football gods.
14. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS [down from 11]
Overall record: 8-5
Streak: Lost one
The Chiefs’ blowout loss in San Diego was predictable considering quarterback Matt Cassel missed the game because of an appendectomy. But Kansas City remains one game ahead of the Chargers in the AFC West and can clinch the division with wins over St. Louis, Tennessee and Oakland.
15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS [up from 16]
Overall record: 7-6
Streak: Won one
The Colts will defend their AFC South crown if they win out, but they’ll first have to beat a surging Jacksonville squad. An interesting part to this matchup will be Indy’s brittle run defence against Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
16. MIAMI DOLPHINS [up from 18]
Overall record: 7-6
Streak: Lost one
Man, that Cameron Wake is a blur when he blasts around the corner. Wake, who leads the NFL with 14 sacks, is doing his best to keep the Dolphins’ slim wild card chances alive.
17. OAKLAND RAIDERS [down from 14]
Overall record: 6-7
Streak: Lost one
The Raiders are too inconsistent from one week to the next to really challenge for a playoff spot this year. How else do you explain a dominating effort against San Diego in Week 13, only to let a win in Jacksonville slip away with costly mistakes.
18. ST. LOUIS RAMS [down from 17]
Overall record: 6-7
Streak: Lost one
Few were expecting the Rams to put up much of a fight against the Super Bowl champion Saints, and true to form, the game was over in the first quarter.
19. HOUSTON TEXANS [down from 17]
Overall record: 5-8
Streak: Lost two
Matt Schaub was looking like Joe Montana in the fourth quarter against Baltimore. Then overtime arrived and he turned into JaMarcus Russell.
20. CLEVELAND BROWNS [up from 21]
Overall record: 5-8
Streak: Lost one
I know you have to report it, but isn’t it an overstatement to say that the Browns were eliminated from playoff contention with their loss in Buffalo? Did anyone think Cleveland was a serious contender in the first place?
21. DALLAS COWBOYS [up from 23]
Overall record: 4-9
Streak: Lost one
Suggestion to running back Tashard Choice: I know you admire Michael Vick and wanted to get his autograph, but doing it on national television after your team just lost to its bitter division rival is, how do I say this – unbelievably ill-timed. Choice later said the autographed glove was for his two-year old nephew. Once again, not the right time, Tashard. You could’ve done it after buying a ticket to the Eagles’ first playoff game. You know, since your Cowboys will be watching from home.
22. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS [up from 26]
Overall record: 5-8
Streak: Won one
Every time I bury the 49ers they come up with a win that puts them right back in the thick of the NFC West race. They’re like that last string of gum you can’t scrape off the bottom of your shoe.
23. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS [down from 19]
Overall record: 6-7
Streak: Lost one
If you don’t want to lose your lunch, you’ll avoid watching the replay of receiver Deon Butler breaking his leg against the 49ers. I’m feeling nauseous just thinking about it.
24. MINNESOTA VIKINGS [down from 22]
Overall record: 5-8
Streak: Lost one
The Vikings have bigger problems to worry about than seeing Brett Favre’s remarkable string of 297 games’ streak come to an end. Tarvaris Jackson looked brutal versus the Giants, which means Minnesota will be looking elsewhere for a quarterback next year.
25. WASHINGTON REDSKINS [down from 24]
Overall record: 5-8
Streak: Lost three
Seeing the ball slip through the fingers of holder Hunter Smith during the Redskins’ extra point try in the dying seconds against the Bucs gave me two perfect adjectives to describe Washington’s season: inept and entertaining.
26. TENNESSEE TITANS [down from 25]
Overall record: 5-8
Streak: Lost six
As the franchise’s head coach for nearly 17 years, it’s time for Jeff Fisher to step down. The players have obviously stopped listening to him and owner Bud Adams may be ready to pull the plug anyway.
27. BUFFALO BILLS [unchanged]
Overall record: 3-10
Streak: Won one
Give a fond farewell to Andrew Luck, Bills fans. Here’s some draft advice: You’ll probably be picking somewhere around 4-to-6, so don’t draft a quarterback. Luck is the only college pivot worthy of a top-10 pick.
28. ARIZONA CARDINALS [unchanged]
Overall record: 4-9
Streak: Won one
It would figure that the Cardinals end a seven-game losing streak on the day kicker Jay Feely runs for a touchdown.
29. DETROIT LIONS [up from 31]
Overall record: 3-10
Streak: Won one
The Lions knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game and the rest was gravy.
30. DENVER BRONCOS [down from 29]
Overall record: 3-10
Streak: Lost four
What does is say for quarterback Tim Tebow when the Broncos are playing for nothing yet still won’t put the rookie under centre?
31.CINCINNATI BENGALS [down from 30]
Overall record: 2-11
Streak: Lost 10
The most amusing part of the Bengals’ loss to Pittsburgh was receiver Terrell Owens trying to explain to quarterback Carson Palmer how Troy Polamalu’s brilliant 45-yard interception return for a touchdown wasn’t his fault. Palmer, who wasn’t buying it, just walked away. But T.O. isn’t finished. Now he’s blaming the coaching staff for the Bengals’ lost season.
32. CAROLINA PANTHERS [unchanged]
Overall record: 1-12
Streak: Lost seven
Seems rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen can’t do anything right. The kid apologizes to linebacker Jon Beason for his bad play, which drew the ire of veteran receiver Steve Smith, who felt an apology was in order to the rest of the offence.