NFL Power Rankings: Hottest Teams Heading into Final Week of Season
As the New York Giants showed us last season, regular-season records aren't the only indicator of who has the best shot at the Super Bowl. The Giants came into the playoffs at only 9-7, but rode the hot hand of Eli Manning and their incredible pass rush right to Super Bowl glory.
Heading into Week 17, momentum is more important than ever as plenty of playoff seeding ramifications remain up in the air.
Teams like the Seattle Seahawks are peaking at just the right time. Some, like the San Fransisco 49ers, will need to step their game up when the league's second season gets underway.
With the bottom half of the league battling for draft position and the league's elite positioning themselves for a playoff run, here's where each team ranks in the latest power rankings.
Note: Hottest Teams in Italics.
No. 1 Denver Broncos (12-3)
After a 2-3 start, Denver has reeled off 10 straight wins. Of those 10 wins, seven have been by double digits. Manning has this offense firing on all cylinders and will be difficult to eliminate come playoff time.
With a point differential of plus-157 points on the season, a Top 10 offense and a Top 10 defense, the Broncos are on a roll and have established themselves as the league's top team.
No. 2 Atlanta Falcons (13-2)
The Falcons have had some close calls this season but have managed to persevere to earn the league's best record.
A 10-point loss to the Panthers in Week 14 is the only real question mark on their resume, but they have rebounded nicely with a 34-0 win over the Giants and a 31-18 victory over the Detroit Lions.
When Matt Ryan is playing at an elite level the Falcons are the best team in the league.
No. 3 Green Bay Packers (11-4)
Just one year removed from going 15-1, a 2-3 start was the last thing most Packers fans expected this season.
While many wrote the Packers off after the slow start, they've quietly become one of the hottest teams in the league. The Packers are 9-1 in their last 10 games and are coming off of a 55-7 beatdown of the Tennessee Titans after three straight NFC North wins.
Thanks to injuries, the 2012 offensive unit isn't as explosive as the 2011 version, but this year's defense is much better. After losing their first playoff game last season, the Packers should be ready to prove they can win in the postseason this time around.
No. 4 Seattle Seahawks (10-5)
The Seahawks have officially become the upstart team that no one wants to see in the playoffs.
With a scary defense and a rushing attack that can wear down just about any defense, the Seahawks have the recipe for playoff success down. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has been more efficient than anyone could have guessed in the preseason.
In addition to having the kind of defense that can carry a team through the playoffs, Seattle is peaking at just the right time.
Three weeks in a row now Seattle has blown out its opponent, including a 42-13 win over former NFC favorite San Francisco.
No. 5 New England Patriots (11-4)
If it weren't for a horrible first-half performance against the 49ers the Patriots would probably be in the top three of these rankings.
However, the Patriots fell way behind the Niners and couldn't complete the comeback. Their failure to blow out the lowly Jaguars is a sign they may struggle a bit come playoff time.
No. 6 San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1)
The 49ers have looked like the best team in the NFL at times this season. They're also coming off of a 42-13 blowout loss to Seattle. The Seahawks are a great team at home, so it's tough to draw too many conclusions, but the 49er faithful have reason to be concerned.
No. 7 Houston Texans (12-3)
Consider the Texans the 49ers of the AFC. There have been times this season when they've looked like the best team in the league. However, they're picking a bad time to be slumping—losing two of the last three is no way to be heading into Week 17.
No. 8 Washington Redskins (9-6)
The Redskins are one of three teams in the league that should be in the playoffs with a rookie quarterback and they, much like the Seahawks, will be dangerous.
Sitting at 3-6 during their Week 10 bye week, it looked like the Redskins had a long way to go before putting a playoff team on the field. A six-game win streak later and the Redskins are among the hottest teams in the league heading into the playoffs.
They boast the league's No. 1 rushing attack and throw the ball efficiently with Griffin running the show. The defense is weak against the pass (287 yards per game) but can stuff the run and force teams to be one-dimensional.
The Redskins aren't yet among the NFL elite, but that kind of momentum is scary in the postseason—especially if they beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17.
No. 9 Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
The Ravens have been on a power ranking free fall after three straight losses, but a win over the Giants in a do-or-die situation shows they can still come through when it matters. This team definitely has issues (Ray Rice needs more touches), but they are still dangerous.
No. 10 Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Which team had the most surprising season?
Head coach Chuck Pagano has officially returned to the Colts and interim head coach Bruce Arians got him quite the Christmas gift for his return—the Colts have clinched a playoff berth. Andrew Luck has been phenomenal this season, and it should be interesting to see what he does in his first playoff start.
No. 11 Minnesota Vikings (9-6)
Adrian Peterson has a great case for the MVP trophy. He only needs 102 yards to crack 2,000 on the season. This team can go as far as Christian Ponder can take them. That's a scary prospect, but there's no denying after their 23-6 win over the Texans shows that they are a dangerous team.
No. 12 Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
After a 3-5 start, the Bengals have gone 6-1 in their last seven games to lock up a playoff spot. The defense is looking sharp, and A.J. Green gives the offense a spark but none of those six wins have come against teams likely to make the playoffs.
No. 13 Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
Dallas' record reflects mediocrity, but Tony Romo is playing at an elite level right now. The Cowboys lost a shootout to the Saints last week and need to beat the Redskins to get in the playoffs, but they have finished the season strong after starting the season 3-5.
No. 14 Chicago Bears (9-6)
The Bears have experienced a second-half swoon once again. After starting the season 7-1, the Bears need a win over the Lions and some help to even make the playoffs.
No. 15 New York Giants (8-7)
After becoming the hottest team in the league down the stretch last season, the Giants just can't seem to pull things together this season. They've lost three of their last four, including back-to-back blowout losses.
No. 16 New Orleans Saints (7-8)
It's a shame for Saints fans that the team got off to such an awful start. A 1-4 start was too much for the Saints to overcome, but they have put together back-to-back impressive wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cowboys.
No. 17 St. Louis Rams (7-7-1)
All things considered, the Jeff Fisher era is off to a great start in St. Louis. The Rams haven't lost a game in the division this season and have won four of their final five games to close out the season.
No. 18 Miami Dolphins (7-8)
Ryan Tannehill's rookie season didn't yield a playoff appearance like Robert Griffin or Andrew Luck, but they came close. At 7-8, the Dolphins were about as middle-of-the-road as a team can be and have some building blocks for the future.
No. 19 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
Even Ben Roethlisberger's return to the lineup couldn't push the Steelers into the playoffs this year. Sporadic play from the offense plagued Pittsburgh all season and have the usual contenders on the outside looking in this season.
No. 20 Carolina Panthers (6-9)
Cam Newton and Co. had a rough start to the season but have quietly won four of their last five and have shown signs of life for next season.
No. 21 San Diego Chargers (6-9)
Outside of Denver, the AFC West is absolutely awful. The fact that Norv Turner couldn't lead this team to playoff contention in a division with the Chiefs and Raiders is a good sign he needs to go.
No. 22 New York Jets (6-9)
No. 1 in media coverage, nearly last in the AFC East. Mark Sanchez has been awful. Greg McElroy didn't fare too well as the team's starter either. The Jets are a mess.
No. 23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9)
Josh Freeman has made strides, but the Buccaneers secondary has been horrific. A five-game losing streak isn't the finish you'd like to see, but Tampa has a serious identifiable weakness to approach in the offseason.
No. 24 Buffalo Bills (5-10)
C.J. Spiller has emerged as one of the league's most explosive runners. Unfortunately it hasn't made much of a difference in the wins column.
No. 25 Detroit Lions (4-11)
After an exciting playoff season in 2011, the 2012 Lions just can't seem to catch a break. Detroit has played the strongest schedule of any NFL team all season. Not that it's much consolation to Lions fans.
No. 26 Cleveland Browns (5-10)
The Browns are trudging through another poor season. After winning three straight games, the Browns are coming off of their worst two performances of the season against the Redskins and Broncos.
No. 27 Tennessee Titans (5-10)
The Titans are one of the few teams that can claim they were beat by the Jacksonville Jaguars. A win over the Jets in Week 15 was a bright spot, but a 55-7 loss to the Packers brought them back to reality rather quickly.
No. 28 Philadelphia Eagles (4-11)
The wheels have really come off in Philadelphia. The Eagles are a complete mess, and it's likely we see a complete makeover of the organization next season. With Nick Foles injured, Michael Vick will probably make his last start for the team in Week 17.
No. 29 Arizona Cardinals (5-10)
Hard to believe this team was once 4-0 this season. The Cardinals have holes everywhere and are 1-10 in their last 11 games.
No. 30 Oakland Raiders (4-11)
Watching this team play, one wonders how they managed to win four games. Carson Palmer has clearly not been the answer the team thought he would be when they traded for him, and the Raiders will be in the top five of the draft once again.
No. 31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)
The Jaguars did a commendable job of keeping it close with the Patriots. That was one of the highlights of the 2012 season. Jacksonville fans will be rooting for Kansas City. This is a team that could use the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.
No. 32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-13)
Jamaal Charles ran for over 200 yards against Indianapolis in Week 16. Peyton Hillis ran for over 100. The Chiefs still lost. That's a team that needs serious help.
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