NFL Power Rankings: Outlook for Every Team Heading into Week 17

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NFL Power Rankings: Outlook for Every Team Heading into Week 17
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The NFL schedule for Week 17 is about as good as one can expect in regards to meaningful games. Almost every game on the schedule has some playoff significance. 

As it stands, there are only three games that don't affect playoff qualification and/or seeding. That could change for the late starting games, but this should make for an exciting Sunday.

As we head to the close of the regular season, let's take a look at where each team stands and the outlook each franchise has in Week 17—and beyond, in some cases.

Here are the rankings.

 

1. San Francisco 49ers, 11-4

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As many as three teams could feasibly hold the top spot after Week 16, but the 49ers get the nod here.

No team is playing better than the 'Niners right now. On Monday night, San Francisco closed out regular-season play at Candlestick Park with a 34-24 win over a stubborn Atlanta Falcons team. 

It was the fifth straight victory for the Niners, and though Atlanta may seem like a weak opponent on paper, the Falcons played inspired football in what equated to the team's Super Bowl in a lost season.

With a win in Arizona and a Seattle Seahawks loss at home against the St. Louis Rams, the 49ers could win the NFC West.

If the Carolina Panthers also lose their finale to the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco could still obtain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

 

2. Seattle Seahawks, 12-3

The price of losing the first game at home in nearly two years is a spot on the power rankings. The Seahawks are still elite, but the Arizona Cardinals proved they are beatable at home.

That win will prove to be an inspiration for the Rams in Week 17 and any team that has to venture into CenturyLink Field in the playoffs.

The question is: can another team repeat the feat?

 

3. Denver Broncos, 12-3

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The Broncos responded from their Week 15 loss at home to the San Diego Chargers with a 37-13 win over the hapless Houston Texans. Still, there have to be some concerns with this team heading into the postseason. Home-field advantage has not been wrapped up just yet.

The Broncos still need to win at Oakland or hope the New England Patriots lose at home to Buffalo to secure the AFC's top seed. With star linebacker Von Miller out for the year with a torn ACL, Denver's defense will be weakened. 

Can Peyton Manning lead his team through the bitter cold temperatures and nature of the postseason?

 

4. Carolina Panthers, 11-4

The Week 16 win over the New Orleans Saints was a huge one for Carolina. Not only did the victory give the Panthers the lead in the division and clinch them a playoff spot, it also proved to the young team that it could beat its biggest division rival.

Armed with one of the league's best defenses, the Panthers will be a tough out for any postseason foe.

 

5. New England Patriots, 11-4

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Torn to pieces by injury and player absence, the Patriots just keep winning. In one of the team's most impressive performances of the season, the Pats clinched the AFC East crown by obliterating the Baltimore Ravens 41-7 in Week 16. 

Obtaining home-field advantage in the AFC is a long shot, but if the Raiders pull out a miracle win against the Broncos and the Patriots hold serve against the Buffalo Bills, the road to the Super Bowl will run through Gillette Stadium.

Tom Brady and the Patriots are one of three teams in the NFL who are undefeated at home. They are a good bet to hold up their end of the bargain.


6. New Orleans Saints, 10-5

Some of New Orleans' steam has been lost over the last two weeks. Sean Payton's team is on a two-game skid, and that's not a good look heading into the playoffs. In Week 17, the Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a must-win situation.

A loss would open the door for the Cardinals to steal the final playoff spot, if they can win at home against the 49ers. As good as the Saints have looked this season, there is a chance they miss the playoffs altogether.

 

7. Cincinnati Bengals, 10-5

Cincinnati has proven to be unbeatable at home this season. The Bengals will attempt to remain perfect at Paul Brown Stadium with a win over the Ravens in Week 17.

Cincy could eliminate the defending Super Bowl champions with a win. If the Bills upset the Patriots, the Bengals could even get a first-round bye.

 

8. Arizona Cardinals, 10-5

Every year there's a team that probably won't make the playoffs but is playing lights out at the end of the season. This year, it's the Cardinals. Winners of three straight games, Arizona needs a win or tie against the Niners and the Saints to lose to the Bucs to get the final wild-card spot.

The entire NFC is hoping that scenario doesn't come true. With Arizona's win over the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, the team served notice that it is for real and a serious threat to any team in the NFL.

 

9. Indianapolis Colts, 10-5

Another week, another win over a team with a sparkling record. The Colts struggled against mediocre teams this season, but they have played several of the clubs with the best marks in the NFL.

In Week 16, the Colts took down the Kansas City Chiefs. They have also beaten Seattle, San Francisco and Denver. Heading into the playoffs, Indianapolis should feel good about its chances to knock off any opponent it faces.

 

10. Kansas City Chiefs, 11-4

After being manhandled by the Colts in Week 16, the Chiefs are looking less like a Super Bowl threat every game. Against teams currently alive in the playoff race, the Chiefs are just 2-4. Those two wins came against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles early in the season.

Quite honestly, it is hard to imagine the Chiefs beating the Pats, Broncos or Colts in the postseason.


11. Philadelphia Eagles, 9-6

Sure, Philly was only playing the Chicago Bears' weak defense in Week 16, but 54 points and just two punts is an impressive offensive performance. Never mind the fact that the much-maligned defense held the high-scoring Chicago offense to just 11 points.

The Eagles came up with a win, but the biggest game of the season comes in Week 17. Without a win over the Cowboys in the season finale, the Eagles strong second half will be for naught.

 

12. Chicago Bears, 8-7

Despite the absolute thrashing the Bears received from the Eagles, the team can still win its division with a win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. There are tons of things to consider heading into the final game of the season in Chicago.

Jay Cutler was mediocre against the Eagles, but the defense that allowed 54 points was primarily to blame for the lopsided loss. Still, there is a question as to whether Josh McCown gives the Bears the best chance to beat the Packers.

Games don't get much bigger than this one on the final day of the season.

 

13. Baltimore Ravens, 8-7

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So much for the late-season surge. The Ravens were blasted by the Patriots in Week 16. Baltimore can now only make the playoffs with a win over the Bengals and some help from other teams.

John Harbaugh's team is battling the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers for the final playoff spot, but truth be told, the Ravens have the most difficult assignment.

Joe Flacco must lead his team past a Bengals squad that is undefeated at home and has something to play for. 

 

14. Miami Dolphins, 8-7

Miami squandered an opportunity to get a leg up on the other AFC wild-card contenders in Week 16. After losing 19-0 to the Bills, the Dolphins must now beat the New York Jets in Week 17 and hope the Bengals defeat the Ravens.

 

15. San Diego Chargers, 8-7

San Diego might just be the AFC's version of the Cardinals. The 'Bolts have won three games in a row and have a very winnable game in front of them in Week 17.

The Chiefs seem to be faltering, while San Diego is performing the best it has all season. Playing at home, it is hard not to like San Diego's chances of grabbing a crucial win in the season finale.

 

16. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-8

Believe it or not, the Steelers are still mathematically alive for the postseason. After pulling out a thrilling win at Lambeau Field over the Packers on Sunday, the Steelers need a win over the Cleveland Browns and a lot of help to make the playoffs.

Even if Pittsburgh can't punch a ticket to the postseason, the organization should feel good about the way the team ended 2013.

 

17. Green Bay Packers, 7-7-1

One has to wonder what the last four weeks of this season would look like for the 'Pack had Aaron Rodgers been available. Per NFL.com's Dan Hanzus, head coach Mike McCarthy would like a decision on Rodgers to come "sooner than later" this week. The team needs to know if it will have its star as it prepares to battle the Bears for the division crown.

While Rodgers' status is paramount in the minds of Packers and Bears fans, Clay Matthews' likely absence from the game with an injured thumb is also important.

What Packers team will take the field in Chicago as the team plays its biggest game of the season?

 

18. Dallas Cowboys, 8-7

If Tony Romo doesn't play in Week 17 against the Eagles, Cowboys fans will see just how valuable their polarizing quarterback really is.

Romo's status for the season finale is like Dan Le Batard—highly questionable. After receiving an epidural for his injured back, the Cowboys aren't ruling Romo out against the Eagles, per Hanzus.

ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted Romo was out for the season originally, but the organization hasn't spoken with the same finality.

Perhaps it is just trying to create confusion for the Eagles as the latter plans for the important game. In any case, Romo's true value to the organization will be made clear on Sunday.

 

19. St. Louis Rams, 7-8

Though St. Louis has already been eliminated from playoff contention, it has won two games in a row, including a Week 15 win over the Saints. The team now faces the daunting task of handing the Seahawks its second straight loss at home.

St. Louis has the makeup to get it done. Led by a suddenly formidable run game, it is a tough matchup for any team. The Rams haven't run for less than 100 yards in their last eight games.

During that time, St. Louis is averaging 155.6 rushing yards per game.

 

20. Detroit Lions, 7-8

What can be said about the Lions? Predictably, the team choked down the stretch and was eliminated from the playoffs by an underachieving Giants team that didn't even play well in Week 16.

In the last two seasons, Detroit is 2-13 in Weeks 10-17. It's hard to see how Jim Schwartz would be allowed to remain head coach with that track record.

 

21. N.Y. Jets, 7-8

With the team already eliminated from playoff contention, Geno Smith had one of his best games of the season. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Smith didn't throw a pick against the Cleveland Browns, tossed two touchdown passes and ran for another.

In any case, the Jets have something to build on as they attempt to play spoiler against the Dolphins in Week 17.

 

22. Tennessee Titans, 6-9

Behind a punishing run game, the Titans found their way back to the winner's column in Week 16. Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene combined for 181 yards on 41 carries against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Still, Tennessee is set to play one of the few meaningless games on the schedule in the final week against the Texans.

 

23. Buffalo Bills, 6-9

The defense came up huge for the Bills against the Dolphins in Week 16. The 19-0 win was just the third shutout of the season in the NFL.

Buffalo will need another big-time performance if it is to go into Gillette Stadium and deal the Patriots their first loss at home.

 

24. NY Giants, 6-9

In Week 17, the Giants and Washington Redskins will meet in a game that could be the last for two legendary head coaches. New York's Tom Coughlin and Washington's Mike Shanahan are both on the hot seat after disappointing seasons.

Way back in November, B/R asked if missing the playoffs would cost Coughlin his job. 

It's hard to give the G-Men much credit for their win in Detroit on Sunday. The Lions gave away the game on a few occasions. Ultimately, New York decided to finally take it.

Missing the playoffs for the second straight year won't sit well with Giants management. After a few near misses, this could finally be the time that Coughlin is relieved of his head coaching duties.

 

25. Minnesota Vikings, 4-10-1

Minnesota is playing in another of the league's meaningless games on the final Sunday. No matter what happens against the Lions, the Vikings have to target a quarterback with their top pick in the NFL draft. 

Matt Cassel may just be performing for his next club or as a potential placeholder veteran while the Vikes' next quarterback of the future develops.

 

26. Jacksonville Jaguars, 4-11

How bad was the start when a 5-11 record means the team had a promising end to the campaign? Pretty bad.

After starting the season 0-8, the Jags are 4-3 in their last seven games. A win over the Colts would give Jacksonville a winning record in the second half of the season.

 

27. Oakland Raiders, 4-11

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It's great to see Terrelle Pryor getting a chance to start the season finale. The Raiders weren't a great team with Pryor starting, but they were at least competitive. Oakland is 3-5 in the games Pryor started in 2013 and just 1-6 in the others.

Facing the Broncos will be a stiff test—especially considering Denver still hasn't wrapped up the top seed in the AFC—but Pryor gives the Raiders their best chance to win.


28. Atlanta Falcons, 4-11

After a valiant effort fell short on Monday night against the Niners, the Falcons have another chance to ruin a playoff hopeful's season. Taking on the rival Panthers, the Falcons can squash their opponent's chances to earn a first-round bye and the division crown.

Once the season is over, the team can look to add a playmaker at running back and a pass rusher in the NFL draft.

 

29. Cleveland Browns, 4-11

At one point, the Browns were in the thick of things for a wild-card berth in the AFC. At 4-5, a few wins would have set them up nicely. Unfortunately, the Browns have lost six straight and are again among the worst teams in the NFL.

In Week 17, the Browns have to settle for a spoiler role. Cleveland can stomp out the Steelers' fleeting postseason hopes with a win at Heinz Field.

 

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4-11

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Though the Bucs have lost their last two games, the team still has a few things to build on for the 2014 season. Surprising rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has been the best first-year signal-caller.

The underrated defense is 13th in the league in total yards allowed, despite being hung out to dry for most of the first half of the season by an anemic offense. 

In the season finale, the Bucs can deal the Saints their third loss in a row and potentially eliminate them from the playoffs.


31. Washington Redskins, 3-12

Kirk Cousins has already lost his chance to create a real quarterback controversy heading into 2014. Having started the last two games, Cousins has thrown four touchdown passes and three picks against the 25th (Atlanta) and 31st (Dallas) pass defenses in the NFL.

Robert Griffin III could have done that.

 

32. Houston Texans, 2-13

It has to be hard for even the most diehard Texans fan to find a reason to watch Houston's final game against the Titans.

The Texans didn't even get an opportunity to play a playoff contender so they could be a potential spoiler. At least the nightmare season is almost over.

 

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