NFL Power Rankings: Post-Regular Season
The 2012 NFL regular season came to a thrilling conclusion in Landover, Maryland last night, and it's hard not to look back on the last 17 weeks without some mixed emotions. We saw some teams implode while others emerged from irrelevance to transform the game as we know it. Records were broken and parity reigned supreme, while we also experienced tragedies that far transcended football.
2012 was an exhilarating season full of ups, downs and everything in between. However, it was also the first season since 1996 in which the playoffs did not see a turnover of at least five teams from the year before.
We will watch the usual suspects in Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking their teams towards Super Bowl glory; but, the old guards will have to defend their home fields against the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
The playoffs are just around the corner. However, for many fans, the experiences and emotions of this season are still very raw. Let's take a look at the final power rankings for the 2012 NFL regular season.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
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The Chiefs finished the season 2-14. They averaged just over 13 points per game and gave up 207 more points than they scored on the season. The offense was one dimensional and the defense was put in some incredibly tough positions all year. There are not too many positives to take away from the product they put on the field.
To add insult to injury, Kansas City will have the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft in a year in which there is no surefire franchise quarterback available. The organization cannot move forward with either Brady Quinn or Matt Cassel, yet there does not appear to be promising, cost effective options available to become the quarterback of the future.
This offseason will determine whether the Chiefs will have an opportunity to dig themselves out of obscurity and into a contender within the next few seasons.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
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The Jaguars are a directionless franchise that has been incapable of pulling itself up into relevancy over the years. The team swung and missed on Blaine Gabbert and handed the reigns to Chad Henne for the final nine games of the season. Their 2-14 record is obviously pathetic, but there is reason for hope in Jacksonville.
This will be the sixth season in a row in which the Jags will pick in the top 10 in the NFL draft. Obviously, their track record is not very good, as the team has not improved.
However, with the influx of young talent that will continue to pour into Jacksonville this offseason, this team can improve drastically over the next few seasons. It's not going to happen next season, and maybe not even the year after that, but this team can only miss on so many draft picks before some of them start to work out.
Don't expect Jacksonville to rise up these rankings any time soon. It's going to take a meticulous, calculated plan to morph this team into a serious contender.
30. Arizona Cardinals
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The Arizona Cardinals began the season with a promising 4-0 record, but went on to lose 11 of their next 12 games to close out the season. It's hard to say they collapsed, because the team was never that talented anyway. It's hard to win in this pass-driven league with the likes of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton at quarterback.
If Arizona can bring in a veteran quarterback to feed the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, this team could become a fringe playoff contender next season. As long as the defensive line can improve against the run, there is some talent in the Cardinals secondary. If the front office can fill a few key holes via draft, this could be the bounce-back team of the year in 2013.
29. New York Jets
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The New York Jets were at a crossroads at the beginning of 2012. After embarrassing themselves in 2011 and watching their crosstown rival bring home the Lombardi Trophy, this season was supposed to be different. Mark Sanchez was supposed to emerge as a NFL caliber starter, while Tim Tebow was brought in to help institute the Wild Cat.
However, the Jets season could not have played out in a more disastrous fashion. The team went 6-10 and became the laughingstock of the NFL. Sanchez lost his starting job while Tebow was never given a chance to lead the offense.
Gang Green's defense held up well under some adverse circumstances, but the rebuilding job that has to take place in New York over the next few seasons is daunting. The team needs a new quarterback, youth on the offensive line, a more dynamic running back and at least one more playmaking wideout.
Furthermore, the offensive coaching situation is in flux. Rex Ryan likely has his job back if he wants it, but there are going to be changes in both the front office and at offensive coordinator. There is an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding the Jets right now and it's unlikely it goes away anytime soon.
28. Philadelphia Eagles
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The Eagles trump the Jets in the power rankings because this team still has Pro Bowl caliber talent on the roster. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy are three of the fastest players in the league and can break open a game at any given moment.
However, the Eagles did not have a lot of those moments this season. In fact, they were so awful that Andy Reid is on his way out the door after 14 season with the team. Michael Vick is likely to go with him and there is no surefire candidate to takeover at quarterback next season.
Philadelphia was a once proud franchise with Super Bowl aspirations, but a rebuilding process is in order this offseason. A new coach, quarterback and personnel help at several other positions on both sides of the football would all be welcome additions at Lincoln Financial Field in 2013.
27. Oakland Raiders
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The Oakland Raiders were 4-12 this season, but they were better than their record says they were. Four of the team's eight losses came by eight points or less. If the ball bounced a different way in a few of Oakland's matchups, we could be talking about an 8-8 team right now. Obviously, that's not a playoff caliber mark, nor is it where Raiders fans want their team to be, but this not not your typical 12-loss football team.
However, there is a reason that the Raiders are where they are right now. Carson Palmer has been tremendously disappointing as the starting quarterback, and his acquisition has cost the team two first-round draft picks and the ability to bring in young talent to help facilitate the rebuilding process.
The Raiders have a decision to make this offseason. Either fully invest in Palmer and give him adequate protection in the pocket along with another playmaking wideout, or tear the roster apart and start anew. There is talent on this football team, but it can only go as far as the quarterback play takes it. Palmer had his chance to gain the confidence of the coaching staff, and it may be time to move in another direction.
26. Tennessee Titans
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There are some teams in the NFL that possess positive qualities, but are so flawed in other aspects of the game that they can't consistently compete with the perennial contenders. The Tennessee Titans are not one of those teams. The Titans were mediocre in just about every statistical category in 2012, which raises a lot of concerns for their prospects going forward.
The team was ranked 26th in the league in passing defense, 23rd in rushing defense, 21st in passing offense and 21st in rushing offense. A lot of those issues arise from lack of depth and production in the trenches, but the Titans have several holes to fill this offseason if the team wants vault itself into contention.
The continued maturity of Jake Locker and the explosive nature of Chris Johnson's skill-set will give fans reason the believe next season. It's just a matter of whether the front office can get its act together quickly enough to draft quality players and spend wisely on free agents.
Mike Munchak likely only has one more season to turn the ship around in Tennessee, so expect the Titans to be aggressive this offseason.
25. Cleveland Browns
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It's that time of year again. The holidays have come and gone, the new year is ringing in and the Cleveland Browns are cleaning house. CEO Joe Banner has fired head coach Pat Shurmer and GM Tom Heckert, which has thrown the entire organization into a state of flux at the moment.
The Browns have a lot of of decisions to make this offseason. Joe Banner did not bring Brandon Weeden in as his quarterback of the future, and there is a chance he may want to begin searching for his own guy. Furthermore, the head coaching vacancy must be filled by a qualified, team-oriented candidate that the organization is willing to stick too for a prolonged period of time.
The Browns will never be successful if they fire their coach every two years. Continuity is grossly underrated in this league, and Cleveland may very well learn that the hard way in 2013.
24. Buffalo Bills
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The Bills are a team that hoped to take the next step forward in 2012. After signing Mario Williams in the offseason, the front office hoped that Ryan Fitzpatrick would mature into a franchise quarterback and lead this team into postseason contention.
However, Williams proved a pure pass-rusher as opposed to a complete defensive end and Fitzpatrick was not talented enough to start in this league. The Bills finished 6-10 and did not beat a team with a record over .500.
If Buffalo can entice a veteran quarterback to come play there next season, they could rebound nicely. There is a foundation for a formidable defense to complement the offensive production of Fred Davis and Stevie Johnson. Their search for a new head coach this offseason will also play a large role in the future of the franchise. But until this team proves their talent on the field, they remain near the basement of the AFC.
23. Miami Dolphins
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The Dolphins finished in second place in the AFC East this season and took a step in the right direction. Ryan Tannehill has shown the potential to develop into a solid quarterback. The defense needs to improve in the secondary, but this team has time to develop into a contender.
Tannehill is not on the level of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or even Russell Wilson. He does not have the ability to read a defense at the line of scrimmage and know exactly where he needs to go with the football. He's not a consistently mobile threat and his accuracy is sometimes questionable. Tannehill is going to take time to fully develop, but he just might be worth the wait.
22. Detroit Lions
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The Detroit Lions fell off the face of the earth in 2012. After a playoff appearance last year, the Lions were this season's pick to emerge as a surprise Super Bowl contender. However, their 4-12 record has tempered their expectations heading into 2013.
The Lions continue to have problems in the secondary and with stopping the run. They have incredible speed at defensive end in Cliff Avril, but he's a speed rusher with who plays undisciplined football against quality running backs.
As long as Detroit fails to commit to establishing a formidable defense, this team will fail to meet the sky-high expectations that their fans will continue to place on them.
Obviously, the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson combination will keep this team competitive in a lot of games. Mikel Leshoure has the potential to develop into a quality back, which would further help diversify the offense and open it up to the Lions' speedy receivers.
Jim Schwartz will not get an opportunity to turn this ship around after next season. It's imperative that this team plays to its potential and gets back on track in 2013.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Bucanneers progressed nicely in 2012 after a disastrous season a year ago. There is talent on this roster and with another solid draft class this team could make some noise next season. However, the question is whether Josh Freeman is good enough to get this team to the next level.
It's hard to win consistently in the NFL without one of the elite quarterbacks. Freeman has his moments of greatness, but he proved this season that he has limitations in the passing game and his decision-making ability is lackluster.
The Bucs are not going to go quarterback shopping this offseason, but Freeman must step up his game in 2013 if he wants to remain in Tampa Bay long term.
20. San Diego Chargers
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The San Diego Chargers have not been competitive for the last two seasons and the departure of Norv Turner will usher in a new era of Chargers football. The next coach in San Diego must be focused on getting Philip Rivers back on track, or else this franchise will remain on the fast track to nowhere.
Rivers needs to be an elite quarterback for the Chargers to be a competitive football team. His interceptions were not so much a problem this season, but he fumbled 13 times and threw for 1,000 yards less than he did last season.
The Chargers have a lot of personnel decisions to make on the offensive side of the football this offseason. A big-play wide receiver, a more stable running back along with help on the offensive line would all help his team get back to the upper echelon of AFC teams. It's a lengthy wish list, but he Chargers are too talented to go 7-9 again.
19. New Orleans Saints
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Bountygate ended the New Orleans Saints' season before it even began. The media firestorm that was created around this team put them in the national spotlight each and every week. Losing Sean Payton for the season had this team out of sync for the first four weeks of the season, and the Saints were not able to recover from their dreadful start.
This team has some daunting salary cap issues to work out this offseason. Through those cap issues, the defense must be upgraded at nearly every position in the secondary. The NFL is not a league in which you can count on a high-powered offense to outscore the opponent and win consistently. A formidable defense is essential for any team with Super Bowl aspirations.
The Saints can bounce back next season, but the team is going to have to get lucky on a few low-risk/high-reward free-agent signings for them to get back to Super Bowl contention.
18. St. Louis Rams
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Jeff Fisher might not win coach of the year, but he should at least get some consideration after bringing the Rams to the precipice of playoff contention this season. Their 7-8-1 record was obviously not good enough to get them there, but this team boasted wins over the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. Each of those teams will be playing in January.
Sam Bradford threw for 21 touchdowns this season and completed nearly 60 percent of his passes. More impressive than that, Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson were his primary wide receivers. Bradford made the players around him better this season, which is the mark of a franchise quarterback. If the Rams can find a real No.1 receiver through the draft or free agency this offseason, this team will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
The Rams also must start looking for a viable replacement for running back Steven Jackson. The shelf life on running backs in this league is painfully short, and Jackson will turn 30 next season. He has one or two more years or solid production before he is no longer a threat out of the backfield.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
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2012 was a tremendously disappointing season in Pittsburgh, but it's not like anybody saw it coming. Ben Roethlisberger is still elite and he has some weapons to throw the ball to, but the Steelers have never been a pass first football team. Running the ball and playing solid defense has always been how they win games, and they were not able to do that this season.
This team needs to get younger on the offensive line and bring in some youth on the defensive side of the ball. Only three of their eight wins came against teams that finished the season with a winning record. Pittsburgh was not even close to contending for a championship this season, and there must be changes made this offseason to get this organization back to where fans are accustomed to seeing them.
16. Carolina Panthers
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The Panthers rebounded off their disastrous start to finish the season winning five of their last six games. Although this young squad has yet to find how to play with consistency, there is talent on both sides of the ball.
Cam Newton finally broke out in the second half of the season and showed us what he was truly capable of. DeAngelo Williams started to earn his contract, while the defense developed into a top-15 unit.
Things are looking up in Carolina, but playing with consistency is the next step this squad needs to take for them to compete for a playoff spot.
15. Chicago Bears
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The Chicago Bears started the season 7-1 and missed the playoffs. Head coach Lovie Smith has been fired and the team is beginning to search for a new candidate as we speak.
The Bears were unable to overcome injuries along the offensive line this season. Their best pass protection scheme was running the football and using play action pass to keep defensive ends odd Jay Cutler for an extra second. However, it's impossible to win in this league without protecting the quarterback with consistency.
It's hard to blame Lovie Smith for his players getting hurt. His team never gave up on him, as they rebounded win win their last two games to give themselves a chance at postseason play. However, losing is getting old in the Windy City and change was desperately needed in order to send a message to the veterans in the locker room.
Things will go one of two ways in Chicago next season. Either the team responds to their new leader and contends to win the NFC North, or they cower to the immense spotlight they will undoubtedly play under and falter once again. 2013 will be a make-or-break year for the Bears.
14. Dallas Cowboys
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The Cowboys proved that Tony Romo is incapable of leading this team to the next level. Romo is now 1-7 in do-or-die games throughout his career, which is just not good enough. His careless throws have doomed this team on multiple occasions and his inability to win big games has many wondering whether Romo is the right man for the job.
It's easy to talk about Romo's shortcomings throughout his career. However, he's still a smart, savvy veteran with the ability to win in this league. With some improved offensive line play next season, the Cowboys will be able to take the next step and win the NFC East. That's a lot easier said than done, though.
13. New York Giants
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The New York Giants' 2012 season was a failure of catastrophic proportions. After winning the Super Bowl a year ago, this team was unable to play its best football when it counted most and will be sitting at home in January as a result.
There are a lot of questions to be answered in New York. Victor Cruz needs a new contract, Osi Umenyiora and Kenny Phillips are likely goners, while Kevin Gilbride and Perry Fewell each have serious questions to answer regarding the performance of their respective units this season.
If history holds true, the Giants will not make any significant changes within the coaching staff this offseason. It's not in the character of Jerry Reese or Tom Coughlin to make rash decisions and stray from individuals who have had success in the past.
However, this team needs to find a way to get its pass rush going again. They need to find a way to get deeper in the secondary and more athletic at linebacker. The Giants have a core of veterans that are capable of beating any team they play, but they can't rely on flipping a switch at the end of the season and hope that everything magically works out in their favor.
This football team is as talented as any other team in the league and its a shame they are not playing playoff football next weekend. The Giants only have themselves to blame for that.
However, they could just as easily come out next season and win the Super Bowl again. Consistency will be key in New York next season and it will likely determine whether the Giants can establish themselves as a perennial contender in the NFC.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
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The Cincinnati Bengals might not be Super Bowl contenders just yet. It's hard to envision them beating any of the elite AFC teams on the road in January. However, this team has made the playoffs two seasons in a row and has proven their ability to hang with the best teams in the NFL.
Considering where the Bengals have been for the better part of the last decade, making the playoffs in two consecutive seasons is a monumental accomplishment. The offense probably needs to improve in the trenches if this team is ever going to seriously contend for a championship, but the last few years have signified a much needed cultural change in Cincinnati.
11. Indianapolis Colts
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There is no understating the transformation that Andrew Luck has brought upon the entire Indianapolis Colts franchise. His ability not only to read defenses and make plays, but also to lead men on the football field, has allowed this team to flourish at just the right time.
With the return of Chuck Pagano to the sideline, the Colts and an emotionally charged team playing their best football heading into January. That's a dangerous combination for any potential opponent. Indy is not the most talented team in the postseason, but they sure do look dangerous after their in against Houston last Sunday.
10. Baltimore Ravens
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Despite losing four of their last five games, the Baltimore Ravens won the AFC North for the second consecutive season in 2012. The playoffs are not about how many wins a team has, they are about who is playing the best football heading in January. It's hard to argue that the Ravens are healthy enough to make a serious run at a championship.
However, with the imminent return of Ray Lewis to the starting lineup, the Ravens are capable of anything. This team came one catch away from making the Super Bowl last season, and they have the talent to get there again. They are going to have to beat some better football teams to do so.
9. Washington Redskins
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Heading into Week 10, the Redskins were sitting at 3-6 and were clinging to their playoff lives. Robert Griffin III miraculously lead this team to the NFC divisional crowns just a season after finishing in last place. The energy in Washington is at an all-time high right now, but this team may not have what it takes to make noise in the playoffs.
RG3 is obviously not playing at full strength right now. He played last night against Dallas with a brace on his knee and his mobility was clearly limited. The Redskins will not advance deep into the playoffs without a healthy Robert Griffin III. This Redskins are a team on the rise and they will compete for championships in the coming seasons, but it's not going to happen this year.
8. Minnesota Vikings
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The Vikings will go as far as Adrian Peterson takes them in the playoffs. Christian Ponder is not going to win them any games, and the defense just gave up 31 points at home to the Packers. Heading on the road to Lambeau Field this weekend is a daunting task, but Peterson has had success against Green Bay this season.
The Vikings are a candidate to rise up these rankings in the coming seasons with the further development of Christian Ponder and another possession receiver. Adrian Peterson is good enough to carry them deep into the playoffs, but it's a lot to ask of one player to single-handedly win a Super Bowl. The Vikings are playing their best football heading into January, but they are not a complete football team yet.
7. Green Bay Packers
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The 2012 playoffs will come down to how well the Packers defense is able to defend their opponents. We all know what Aaron Rodgers and the offense are capable of, and last weekend's emergence of Greg Jennings will provide yet another punch to a devastatingly talented unit.
However, it's hard to consistently outscore opponents in the playoffs. The Packers defense is improved from a year ago, but they have a potentially bad matchup in the Vikings this weekend. If the defense can hold opponents to 25 points or less, this team stands a chance to win the Super Bowl. If not, we'll likely see the Packers sitting at home within the next two weeks.
6. San Francisco 49ers
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The San Francisco 49ers have nearly all the ingredients of a Super Bowl-caliber team. Incredibly talented defense, solid running game, perhaps the best offensive line in the league and a talented group of wideouts. The only question surrounding this team is whether Colin Kaepernick is capable of leading this team in the playoffs.
We've seen the Niners drop games to the Seahawks and Rams this season, but they've also beaten the New England Patriots in Foxborough. We can expect this team to advance deep into the playoffs, but their success will hinge upon the success of the quarterback play.
Teams will undoubtedly stack the box against Frank Gore to stop the run and put the pressure on Kaepernick to make quick, accurate decisions with the football. If he comes through, there is no limit to the success this team can have in the playoffs.
5. Houston Texans
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The Texans blew a chance at a first-round bye by falling to the Colts on the road last weekend. They are 12-4 on the season, but they have not played their best football as of late. This team has lost three of their last four games, all of which have come against playoff teams.
Houston needs to flip a switch and get back to playing championship-caliber football against the Bengals this weekend, or they could be the first shocking elimination from the postseason.
4. Seattle Seahawks
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The Seahawks have peaked at exactly the right time in 2012. This team is playing their best football heading int the postseason, which could spell a recipe for disaster for their opponents. Their defense is solid, the running game is deadly and Russell Wilson has been incredible as a rookie quarterback.
The Seahawks will take on an injured Robert Griffin III and the Redskins on the road this weekend. They have the talent to win this game and the ability to beat any other team they face. It's just a matter of whether Wilson can keep playing to heights that no one ever expected of him.
3. New England Patriots
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The Patriots are one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs. With the return of Rob Gronkowski, this offense is as lethal as ever. Gronkowski is not just a threat as a receiver, but he's among the elite blocking tight ends in the NFL. Tom Brady will be able to take his team deep into the postseason, but the defense will ultimately determine if Brady gets his fourth Super Bowl ring.
Last season, Brady had the Patriots ahead with under four minutes to play in Super Bowl XLVI. The defense squandered the lead and the Pats went home empty-handed. Brady is an incredible talent, but the secondary must be able to stop the elite passing offenses in the league for the Pats to advance all the way to New Orleans.
2. Atlanta Falcons
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The road to the Superdome will head through Atlanta this postseason. Coincidentally, the Falcons have only lost once on their home turf this season. That defeat came last Sunday at the hands of the Buccaneers, in a game with no playoff implications.
The challenge for this team will be playing their best football after losing last weekend and taking a week off on Sunday. Some teams have issues getting back into rhythm after such a long layoff. However, it's going to take a monumental effort from another NFC foe to knock the Falcons off at home.
1. Denver Broncos
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The Broncos have Peyton Manning at quarterback, one of the top defenses in the league and a bevy of weapons on offense. This is clearly the best football team in the NFL right now and it's hard to envision them losing at home to another AFC opponent.
Peyton Manning has had an incredible bounce-back season and it's going to take an off game from him for the Broncos to miss out on an opportunity to win Super Bowl XLVII.