NFL Power Rankings Week 17: Surprises and Shockers Heading into Final Weekend
One week ago in my NFL power rankings, I talked about how there was finally some semblance of order, particularly at the top, with these teams. After Week 16, it is safe to say that no one knows anything in this league.
Last week we were talking about the San Francisco 49ers as the best team in the league. They promptly go out and lay an egg in Seattle, which is starting to look the way Green Bay did two years ago or New York last season.
It is best to just give up trying to put a finger on the pulse of what should happen in the NFL and just let things come as they may.
Still, there have been a number of pleasant surprises and shocks throughout the first 16 weeks of this season. Here is a look at the power rankings heading into the final week of the season, with a closer look at these surprises.
Note: Surprises and shockers are in italics
No. 1 Denver Broncos (12-3)
Before the season, most analysts felt if the Broncos could get through the early part of the schedule, which included games against Pittsburgh, Houston, Atlanta and New England, they could run the table to finish the season.
They made it out of that stretch 2-3 and haven't lost since. Peyton Manning looks better than ever, but the defense is what makes them AFC favorites.
No. 2 Green Bay Packers (11-4)
Like the Broncos, the Packers took a few weeks to find their rhythm. Now, they are one win away from clinching a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. Not a real surprise, considering they were 15-1 last season.
No. 3 Atlanta Falcons (13-2)
As great as the Falcons' record looks, it is hard to classify them as a surprise, because their schedule has been ridiculously easy.
No. 4 New England Patriots (11-4)
All the Patriots care about is winning the division and getting into the playoffs. First-round bye or not, they are still going to be lethal in the postseason.
No. 5 San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1)
As bad as the loss to Seattle was, the 49ers still control the NFC West with a win over Arizona and have a shot at a first-round bye if the Packers lose to Arizona. All things considered, the 29-point blowout could have been a lot worse.
No. 6 Seattle Seahawks (10-5)
A lot of analysts presumed the Seahawks would be improved in 2012 just because their defense looked so strong, but it is hard to imagine anyone predicted that they would be this good.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson doesn't get the credit that Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck does because he rarely throws for 300 yards, but what he does keeping plays alive with his legs is remarkable.
I still have some concerns about this team going on the road and beating a good team, which they will have to do at some point in the postseason. Right now, though, the Seahawks look really, REALLY good.
No. 7 Houston Texans (12-3)
Where was the life in the Texans during that loss to Minnesota? They held Adrian Peterson in check, at least as much as any team can, yet still gave up 23 points and 345 yards of offense. More shocking, they only managed 187 yards.
No. 8 Washington Redskins (9-6)
Robert Griffin III did return but hardly looked like his old self. The Redskins need him to be as close to 100 percent if they want to win the division on Sunday night.
No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
It's not often we have been able to say this in the last 25 years, but good for the Bengals. They went into Pittsburgh and defeated a Steelers team that has given them all sorts of problems to lock up their playoff berth.
Now they need to take down the other AFC North power (Baltimore) to prove they can hang with the big boys come playoff time.
No. 10 Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
The Ravens finally showed a pulse, albeit against a New York team that is just walking through the final weeks of this season like a zombie in The Walking Dead.
No. 11 Minnesota Vikings (9-6)
For weeks I have been trying to write the Vikings off, yet here they are with a chance to lock up a playoff spot with a win in the final week of the season, or some help if they lose.
Offensively, their game plan is about as simple and basic as it gets. Fortunately, they have a running back who is anything but. Adrian Peterson played one of his worst games of the season in Week 16, yet still managed to rack up 86 yards against a strong Houston run defense.
Credit the job that Leslie Frazier has done this season. Even without his best playmaker for most of the season (Percy Harvin), this team continues to defy the odds.
No. 12 Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Look, the story of Chuck Pagano returning to the sidelines to coach the Colts as they make their way into the playoffs is something that not even the best Hollywood screenwriter could come up with.
But they still gave up over 500 yards of offense to the Chiefs. That 10-5 record is an aberration if I have ever seen one.
No. 13 Chicago Bears (9-6)
It is rarely pretty with the Bears, yet they continue to get the job done more often than not. Now they need to root for the Packers to defeat the Vikings if they want to make the playoffs.
No. 14 Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
If you want to make fun of the Cowboys for a close loss in December, go right ahead. But can we finally acknowledge that Tony Romo might not be as bad as the world likes to suggest he is?
No. 15 St. Louis Rams (7-7-1)
If anyone out there thinks Jeff Fisher is an overrated head coach, he took a St. Louis team that finished 2-14 in 2011 and has them on the brink of finishing over .500 for the first time since 2003.
Which Team Has Been The Best Surprise and/or Most Shocking Success Story?
No. 16 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
Inconsistent quarterback play, a secondary decimated by injuries and a string of bad losses brought the Steelers back down to earth in 2012 They won't be down too long, but this season was a sign of just how flawed this team really is right now.
No. 17 New York Giants (8-7)
Forget about the Giants in 2012. Even if they somehow, someway managed to sneak into the postseason, would you really trust them at this point?
No. 18 New Orleans Saints (7-8)
When you examine the year, a .500 season for the Saints should be considered a huge moral victory. Wholesale changes have to be made in the offseason for them to get back into the conversation with the NFL's elite.
No. 19 Carolina Panthers (6-9)
A late-season winning streak shouldn't convince the Panthers they are ready to challenge for a playoff spot. They need more depth, especially on defense, and consistent play from Cam Newton.
No. 20 Miami Dolphins (7-8)
It's past time for us to give some credit to the Dolphins for what they have done in 2012. Starting a rookie quarterback, who was a controversial choice to begin with, and being regarded as one of the worst teams in the AFC before the season has not kept them down.
There may not be any moral victory in the NFL, but the Dolphins have played very well in losing efforts against New England and San Francisco down the stretch. If that's not enough, they are also the only team since the start of November to defeat Seattle.
No. 21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9)
After a brief tease of contention, the Buccaneers reminded us why they are who we thought they were. Josh Freeman is the greatest enigma in the NFL, which leads to plenty of highs and incredible lows.
No. 22 Buffalo Bills (5-10)
So much money spent in the offseason has led to virtually the same record the Bills had in 2011. At least there was more star power to make the mediocrity easier to take.
No. 23 San Diego Chargers (6-9)
Years of frustration and disappointment in San Diego could come to an end after next week's finale against Oakland.
No. 24 New York Jets (6-9)
No. 25 Tennessee Titans (5-10)
There really are no words that make a 55-7 defeat go down smoother. The team is not devoid of talent, as Chris Johnson and Nate Washington give them a strong offensive nucleus to build around.
Now if they can just figure out what kind of quarterback Jake Locker is going to be, they will be able to compete in the AFC South.
No. 26 Cleveland Browns (5-10)
If the Browns could ever find an offense, specifically a quarterback, to support what is actually a talented defense, they would be in business. As it is, they will continue to toil away at the bottom of the AFC North for a long time.
No. 27 Detroit Lions (4-11)
Calvin Johnson's incredible season has taken the focus off what has been an abysmal season for everyone else in Detroit. The Lions need to make changes, or else all the talent they currently have will go to waste.
No. 28 Oakland Raiders (4-11)
Give credit to the Raiders: At least they find different ways to lose games. They can lose a close, high-scoring affair, as they did against Tampa Bay. They can get blown out by 35, as they did against Baltimore. There is never a dull moment with this franchise, even when they are terrible.
No. 29 Philadelphia Eagles (4-11)
As the Eagles end this disaster of a season, and presumably the Andy Reid era, the one positive they can take away from all this has been the development of Nick Foles.
Sure, Foles screwed up at the end of the game against Washington, but there have been a lot more positives than negatives since he took over.
No. 30 Arizona Cardinals (5-10)
It is physically painful to watch the Cardinals right now. Their quarterback situation is so bad, you wonder if they would be better off just punting on first down and letting the defense go.
No. 31 Kansas City Chiefs (2-13)
Since we are basically splitting hairs with the last two spots, I give the Chiefs a slight edge because they have a few players to build around. Jamaal Charles is back to his old self, and Dwayne Bowe, assuming he returns, is still a very good receiver without a quarterback to throw him the ball.
No. 32 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)
The Jaguars are a complete and total mess, from the front office to the roster, there is no direction at all for this team. But hey, at least they can sell a lot of tickets if Tim Tebow comes to town!
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