2012 NFL Power Rankings: Week 15

Updated: December 11, 2012, 5:32 PM ET

Status quo at the top? Not quite.

Credit a Monday night laugher and a Cam Newton-led upset for the latest shakeup.

The New England Patriots solidified their place among the AFC's elite by trouncing the Houston Texans 42-14 on MNF.

That impressive display, combined with the Atlanta Falcons' surprising loss to Newton's Carolina Panthers, gave our voters (ESPN.com's John Clayton, ESPN.com's Ashley Fox, NFC East blogger Dan Graziano, AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and NFC West blogger Mike Sando) no choice but to hand the reins to New England for the first time since Week 2.

Houston and Atlanta -- No. 1 and No. 2 since Week 11 -- fell to No. 3 and No. 5, respectively.

Is there a fall in the Patriots' future? It depends on how Tom Brady & Co. handle their next test, which comes right away. Week 15 pits New England against the No. 4 San Francisco 49ers in a potential Super Bowl preview.

If the Pats prevail, their remaining schedule (at Jacksonville in Week 16, home vs. Miami in Week 17) suggests they'll hold serve down the stretch. If they lose, the status quo will likely be altered yet again. The question is which teams will take advantage.

• How they voted | Bloggers | Rank 'Em | Playoffs Predictor Insider | Bettors' Poll Insider | Mike & Mike Listen | Team Power Rankings charts since 2002

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