There’s a general rule in these parts that the top team in the power rankings can’t lose its spot without losing.
We had to make an exception last night.
In a season that has featured far too little dominance, the No. 3 team blew the doors off the No. 2 team, and that merits a leapfrogging of the No. 1 team.
1. New England Patriots (No. 3; 10-2): The best team that everyone talks about could be putting together its fourth NFL title.
2. Atlanta Falcons (No. 1; 10-2): The best team that no one talks about could be putting together its first.
3. New Orleans Saints (No. 5; 9-3): They’re not dominating, but who is this year? (Except for the Patriots last night.)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 6; 9-3): Like Mickey said when Rocky broke his nose for the first time, “It’s an improvement.”
5. Baltimore Ravens (No. 4; 8-4): The team that has played five road playoff games in two years apparently will have to play some more.
6. Chicago Bears (No. 7; 9-3): With their last four games against the Patriots, Vikings, Jets, and Packers, the Bears could still miss the playoffs.
7. Green Bay Packers (No. 8; 8-4): This team may still be the favorite to get to Dallas in February.
8. New York Jets (No.2; 9-3): As it turns out, the Patriots really weren’t telling the truth when they said the Jets are a great team.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (No. 9; 8-4): None of the AFC’s elite teams will want to play the Chiefs in January.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (No. 10; 8-4): With two games against the Cowboys, things can still fall apart for the Eagles.
11. New York Giants (No. 12; 8-4): With their eighth win in nine games against the Redskins, the Giants are in perfect position . . . to collapse in December once again.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 16; 7-5): It looks like I’m gonna need a new toupee.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 15; 7-5): Sorry, Bucs, but truly good teams periodically beat other good teams.
14. Indianapolis Colts (No. 14; 6-6): All Gatorade buckets in Indianapolis will from this point forward be filled with Keystone Light.
15. Oakland Raiders (No. 18; 6-6): If the good Raiders hang around for a while, the AFC West could get very interesting.
16. St. Louis Rams (No. 17; 6-6): Meet the early favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI. If there is one.
17. San Diego Chargers (No. 11; 6-6): Just when it looked like the Chargers would run the table, the Raiders ran all over them.
18. Cleveland Browns (No. 19; 5-7): Mike Holmgren will have a tough decision to make in January.
19. Miami Dolphins (No. 13; 6-6): Tony Sparano and Jeff Ireland may soon be available to be hired by Bill Parcells again.
20. Minnesota Vikings (No. 22; 5-7): With Favre out, the Vikings scored their most points since the first time Favre played the Packers at Lambeau.
21. Seattle Seahawks (No. 21; 6-6): Pete Carroll’s former team has been barred from playing in the postseason; his current team could end up suffering the same fate.
22. Dallas Cowboys (No. 26; 4-8): Could Jon Kitna be a better quarterback than Tony Romo?
23. Houston Texans (No. 20; 5-7): Defense wins championships. Absence of defense gets guys fired.
24. Washington Redskins (No. 22; 5-7): Maybe Dan Snyder will fire Mike Shanahan and hire Josh McDaniels.
25. Tennessee Titans (No. 24; 5-7): Randy Moss is getting the ultimate payback for years of being a bad teammate.
26. San Francisco 49ers (No. 25; 4-8): The return of Alex Smith could be an effort to get the highest possible draft picks.
27. Buffalo Bills (No. 27; 2-10): At least they didn’t lose another heartbreaker.
28. Denver Broncos (No. 28; 3-9): Josh McDaniels’ departure feels less like a divorce and more like an annulment.
29. Arizona Cardinals (No. 29; 3-9): Would the Vikings have been this bad if Brett Favre had retired?
30. Detroit Lions (No. 30; 2-10): With or without the call against Ndamukong Suh, there’s no way the Lions were winning that game.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (No. 31; 2-10): Another week, another way to lose a game.
32. Carolina Panthers (No. 32; 1-11): A Week 15 visit from the Cardinals is the only thing that could keep the Panthers from duplicating their 1-15 season from 2001.