NFL Playoff Team Rankings: Where Do Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons Rank?

Brandon Galvin@bgny3Featured ColumnistDecember 27, 2010

NFL Playoff Team Rankings: Where Do Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons Rank?

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    We still have two big games before we conclude Week 16 of the NFL season.

    The Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings game was postponed until December 28 due to poor weather conditions. The Eagles need to win to keep their hopes of a first-round bye alive.

    The NFC South division is in full display Monday night, December 27, as the Atlanta Falcons host the New Orleans Saints. This is a huge game with division implications on the line. Atlanta is looking to wrap up a first-round bye while New Orleans wants to clinch a playoff berth.

    Atlanta, Philadelphia and New Orleans are three of the top teams in the league, but where do they rank among the rest of the teams vying for the playoffs?

16. Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seahawks are awful. It’s actually quite pathetic that they are still in the NFC West division race. The football world would be better off if the Rams put them out of their misery Week 17 with the division on the line.

    The Seahawks are 2-7 in their past nine games. Their offensive game plan is a mess as they refuse to run the football consistently with Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett.

    Even if the Seahawks beat the Rams in Week 17 to enter the playoffs, they’re a one-and-done team.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jaguars had the AFC South division in the palm of their hand. They crumbled under pressure.

    This week, they lost to a terrible Washington Redskins team, primarily because team MVP Maurice Jones-Drew was forced to miss the contest with a bothersome knee.

    The Jaguars are a stout team, and they play winning football. David Garrard does his best not to turn the ball over and the running game is fantastic behind the powerful legs of Jones-Drew. The defense is simply not where the team needs it to be and the offense needs a more explosive receiver.

    The Jaguars made a valiant effort all season and kept this extremely interesting. They still have a shot at the playoffs if they can beat Houston and Indianapolis loses to Tennessee.

14. St. Louis Rams

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    Sam Bradford’s Rams started off well. Despite a poor receiving group, Sam Bradford displayed amazing accuracy early in the season. The Rams are one of the biggest surprises this season and it would make for a great story if they beat Seattle in Week 17 and clinch the division.

    Since it is the only game with guaranteed division implications, the NFL switched it to the Sunday night game. The awful NFC West division will be displayed in prime time.

    With the division on the line, though, the Rams and Seahawks will go all-out and should make it a very exciting game.

    All the Rams have to do is win and they’re in.

    Even if they make the playoffs with an 8-8 record, this team won’t make it out of the first round.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Buccaneers have done a fantastic job this season. They are easily one of the biggest surprises this season and a great story all around. They stumbled last week at home in overtime against Detroit, or else they’d actually be controlling their own playoff destiny.

    Josh Freeman threw five touchdown passes Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks. The Bucs have been hit hard by the injury bug in recent weeks but they are still plugging away behind LeGarrette Blount and Freeman. The future looks very bright in Tampa Bay.

    The Bucs need to beat New Orleans in Week 17 to have a chance at the playoffs. They also need the Saints to lose to the Falcons in Week 16 and the Giants and Packers to both lose in Week 17.

12. New York Giants

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    Wow, the Giants' Week 15 collapse carried over to Week 16 and haunted them against the Green Bay Packers.

    Eli Manning’s offense was abysmal.

    The Giants continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate.

    Turnovers have kept the Giants from being an elite team all season and now it looks like it could cost them a chance at making a Super Bowl run. The defense has been stout most of the season, but there is not much the unit can do when the offense fails to give them adequate rest.

    Aaron Rodgers took full advantage and dissected the Giants defense.

    At this point, it’s debatable if the Giants even deserve to sneak into the playoffs. The Giants need to beat Washington and have Green Bay lose to Chicago or New Orleans lose out.

11. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Colts are finally back on track with two wins over the Jaguars and Raiders.

    Neither were the most convincing wins as the defense was average at best. They control their own destiny, though, in the AFC South. As long as they beat the Titans in Week 17, they’re in.

    Peyton Manning had an uncharacteristic stretch mid-season with 11 interceptions in three games. Manning is still one of the best ever and the team will only go as far as he can take them.

    This year, though, it doesn’t look like the Colts will make a return trip to the Super Bowl.

10. Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers have been up-and-down in recent weeks, but when push came to shove, Aaron Rodgers (concussion) returned and the Packers dominated the New York Giants.

    Matt Flynn and Green Bay made a valiant effort in Week 16 on the road against Tom Brady’s Patriots but came up just short. They stumbled against Detroit or else they would already be in the playoffs.

    The Packers need to beat the Bears in Week 17; Chicago could be playing for a first-round bye and possibly even home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

    The defense is playing at a high level and with Aaron Rodgers behind center, the Packers boast one of the best offenses in the game.

9. Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Chiefs had one of the best turnarounds this season. Toddy Haley’s coaching staff is arguably the best in the league. They have their young team prepared each and every week. The running game has taken off over the past month behind Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.

    Dwayne Bowe emerged as one of the top receivers in the game this year. Matt Cassel is playing smart football, refusing to turn the ball over for the most part. They are undefeated at home and could be a very tough out in the first round. The Chiefs play fundamental football in all aspects of the game.

    The Chiefs clinch the No. 3 seed with a win/tie or a Colts loss/tie Week 17.

8. Chicago Bears

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    Many worried about the Bears midseason because Jay Cutler was taking a vicious beating behind his offensive line in Mike Martz’s gung-ho offense.

    Martz’s offense is why many are still skeptical.

    In the offense, Cutler is prone to big hits and even worse, turning the ball over. The Bears offense is rolling in recent weeks, though. If Cutler can keep playing at this high level, the Bears are a scary team with Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers leading the defense. Most importantly, the Bears can play in all types of weather conditions.

    The Bears have clinched the AFC North. They can still claim the No. 1 seed if the Falcons lose out and the Saints lose to Tampa Bay in Week 17 and the Eagles lose or tie against Dallas. They can clinch a first-round bye if the Eagles lose to the Vikings or the Bears beat the Packers in Week 17.

7. New Orleans Saints

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    The defending Super Bowl champions gave the Ravens a run for their money on the road Week 16. They at least showed that they are resilient team and can play outside the confines of their dome.

    Sean Payton is one of the most creative offensive gurus in the league. Now that Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are healthy again, he can finally get to work. Drew Brees is still one of the top players in the league. The gritty veteran will always go down swinging, or throwing. The defense is healthier now than at any point in the season. These champions won’t suffer a Super Bowl hangover.

    The Saints clinch a playoff berth with a win over Atlanta in Week 16. They can clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with two wins and a Falcons loss to Carolina.

6. New York Jets

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    The Jets have fallen off over the past month.

    They were once one of the most dominant teams in the league. Now, there is no telling which team will show up from week to week. The Jets backed into the playoffs despite losing to the Bears since the Jaguars also lost.

    Mark Sanchez has regressed and is playing injured. The running game fell off behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.

    The defense was playing well but they have been lit up by the Patriots and Bears. Rex Ryan needs his group to refocus before heading into the playoffs or their Super Bowl aspirations will blow up in their faces.

5. Atlanta Falcons

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    Although the defense is still suspect, they are bending but not breaking.

    That is all Atlanta needs considering they have one of the top quarterback-to-wide-receiver tandems in the league. Matt Ryan and Roddy White have been just about unstoppable the entire season. Both have proved they deserve more recognition than they receive.

    Matt Ryan, like Tom Brady, rarely loses at home and the Falcons have a great opportunity to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win over New Orleans in Week 16.

    Many, including myself, do not want to give Atlanta the proper credit they deserve. The Falcons are going to give it their all to head into the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steelers stumbled against the Jets without Troy Polamalu but still backed into the playoffs despite the loss. The only thing that matters is that the Steelers will have Polamalu back for the playoffs. They are a completely different team when Polamalu is on the field. He is the team MVP and quite possibly the most important defensive player in the game. He makes the Steelers one of the scariest teams in the league because he is one of the best ball hawks in the game. His football IQ is top-notch.

    The Steelers play fantastic defense and Ben Roethlisberger simply knows how to win games. Mike Tomlin coaches a winning football team and their tough-nosed, smash-mouth style of play is the definition of how to win football games.

    The Steelers need to beat the Browns or have the Ravens lose to the Bengals to clinch a first-round bye.

3. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Ravens are gaining a ton of momentum heading into the playoffs. Like last year, this could be extremely dangerous for every other AFC team.

    Joe Flacco and Ray Rice have proven they can get it done in the playoffs.

    Ray Lewis’ defense has stumbled a bit in recent weeks but they continue to hold on long enough to seal victories. That’s all that matters in the end: victory.

    This is an experienced unit all around. Both sides of the ball play smash-mouth football, perfect for winter ball.

    If the Steelers lose to the Browns and the Ravens beat the Bengals, the Ravens would jump to the top of the AFC North and clinch a first-round bye. Crazier things have happened.

2. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Eagles made a miraculous comeback last week against the New York Giants.

    That victory all but solidified their No. 2 ranking from here on out.

    Michael Vick and his offense are simply too deadly. DeSean Jackson strikes fear in opposing defenses and special teams because of his electrifying playmaking ability. Michael Vick’s remarkable improvement in accuracy and field vision from the pocket, combined with his speed, agility and rocket arm, create about as unstoppable a force as we have ever seen in this league.

    As long as Vick is healthy, the Eagles are quite possibly the most dangerous team in the game. LeSean McCoy has displayed great vision, shiftiness and even power. In crunch time, McCoy has been clutch, picking up big gains and running out the clock.

    Simply put, nobody in the NFC wants to play Philadelphia.

1. New England Patriots

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    The Patriots remain atop the NFL Power Rankings. New England boasts arguably the No. 1 quarterback and head coach combination in the league in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Belichick is one of the best game planning and mid-game adjusting coach in the league.

    Belichick’s inexperienced defense may be inconsistent, but he has them believing in everything he says and ready to give it their all on each and every play.

    Tom Brady is playing quite possibly the best football of his career over the past two months of the season. Brady is cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greatest to ever grace the gridiron.

    Tom Brady is virtually unbeatable at home. Of course, the AFC’s road to the Super Bowl runs through New England.