NFL Power Rankings Week 17: How Far Will the Falcons Fall After Loss to Saints?
After tonight’s Eagles-Vikings game, there will only be one week left in the season.
Although nine of the twelve playoff spots have already been clinched, there are still three spots up for grabs.
Other than New England, every premier team has something to play for this week, whether it is the competition for a final playoff spot or simply teams jockeying for home field advantage.
With 15 games in the books and the season nearing an end, let’s examine the league’s best teams with another addition of NFL Power Rankings.
32. Carolina Panthers
Luckily for them they have the number one pick, because this team desperately needs a quarterback.
The combination of Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore and Brian St. Pierre may be the worst trio of signal callers I have ever seen, meaning Andrew Luck should be starting from day one.
31. Arizona Cardinals
John “Bones” Skelton (yes, I am coining that nickname) looked almost serviceable on Saturday, passing for 183 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys.
The real story is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who has been one of the few bright spots for this lowly Cardinal team.
30. Houston Texans
They may not have the AFC’s worst record, but their performance of late has been absolutely anemic.
Their secondary allowed Tim Tebow to throw for over 300 yards in just his second career start and ranks last in football in yards allowed.
29. Denver Broncos
Although Tebow is still a work in progress, he showed great potential in Denver’s 24-23 win over the Texans.
Tebow showed off a decent—albeit often off-target—arm, good mobility and perhaps most importantly, great leadership ability.
28. Cincinnati Bengals
After a season filled with disappointment, Carson Palmer had one of the best games of his career, completing 16 of 21 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns.
Despite missing his leading receiver in Terrell Owens, Palmer posted a near perfect 157.2 QB rating. If only he hadn’t waited until week 16 to turn in that type of performance.
27. Buffalo Bills
Is it too soon to compare Bills fans to Jonestown followers because a few people were prematurely drinking the kool-aid?
Buffalo has shown signs of life with emerging stars like C.J. Spiller and Steve Johnson, but as their 34-3 loss to New England showed, they are still one of the league’s weaker teams.
26. Cleveland Browns
Against one of the league’s premier defenses Colt McCoy looked atrocious, completing just 51 percent of his passes for 149 yards and three interceptions.
Still, the defense held Joe Flacco to only 102 yards, with rookie cornerback Joe Haden showing great promise.
25. Minnesota Vikings
Despite having immense talent on both sides of the ball, this team can’t seem to win.
Sadly, Minnesota would be better off with a crippled Brett Favre behind center than converted wide receiver Joe Webb.
24. San Francisco 49ers
I legitimately thought the 49ers would knock off the Rams en route to winning the NFC West. However, I did learn a very valuable lesson: never bet on Alex Smith.
The receivers are young and talented with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, so let’s hope Santa brought the Niners a real quarterback for Christmas.
23. Dallas Cowboys
If the Cardinals are ranked as the second worst team in football and the Cowboys lost to them last week, what does that say about Dallas?
This team is still extremely talented, but after a rocky start and a slew of injuries, they seem to have given up.
22. Washington Redskins
Although I’ve always supported McNabb, it looks like his time in Washington is over.
Could he be the solution at quarterback for Minnesota next year?
21. Tennessee Titans
The receivers are young and talented, while Chris Johnson is arguably the best running back in football.
They need to address problems in their secondary and add a new quarterback, but this team has the talent to make the playoffs next season. Let’s just hope ownership doesn’t do anything too brash, like fire Jeff Fisher.
20. Miami Dolphins
Can this team win at home? The Lions scored 17 points during a 2:26 stretch in the fourth quarter, dropping the Fins to 1-7 at Sun Life Stadium.
19. Detroit Lions
The Lions have quietly starting tiptoeing towards relevancy.
The 5-10 Lions have lost five games by five points or fewer and have tremendously talented young players on both sides of the ball with Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Jahvid Best and hopefully a healthy Matthew Stafford.
18. Seattle Seahawks
At 6-9, the Seahawks could do the unthinkable and earn a playoff berth with a win at home over the division rival Rams.
Charlie Whitehurst will get the start for the injured Matt Hasselbeck and that’s probably for the best.
The former Boston College standout has thrown for just 12 touchdowns while tossing 17 picks and losing five fumbles.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags are one of the league’s most inconsistent teams, but still have a chance at making the playoffs with a win on Sunday combined with a Colts loss.
There is offensive talent with Sims-Walker, Jones-Drew and the rest of the hyphenated crowd, but they need to seriously upgrade their secondary and possibly replace David Garrard behind center.
16. Oakland Raiders
In his first fully healthy season, Darren McFadden has shown why the Raiders drafted him with the fourth overall pick in 2008. The 6’2” back has run for 1,157 yards in just 13 games, while hauling in 47 receptions for 507 yards.
Jason Campbell has been a nice one-year stopgap, but the Raiders may want to inquire into the availability of Donovan McNabb or try to acquire a quarterback through the draft.
15. San Diego Chargers
Teams around the league are thanking god that the Chargers didn’t make the post-season. This team has a ferocious pass rush led by Shaun Phillips and a secondary that ranks first in pass defense.
Combine their high level defense with an offense led by the NFL’s third leading passer in Philip Rivers and it’s amazing that the Chargers couldn’t hold off the Chiefs for the AFC West.
14. St. Louis Rams
The Rams got a huge win over the weekend, knocking off a more talented San Francisco team.
St. Louis should be able to knock off the Seahawks this weekend, but it could be a very short post-season for the Rams.
Still, the future looks very bright with emerging stars like Sam Bradford and Chris Long.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Regardless of whether the Bucs can sneak into the playoffs, this has been an incredible season.
Raheem Morris emerged as one of the league’s top coaches, while Josh Freeman showed unbelievable improvement in just his second season.
Undrafted free agent running back LeGarrette Blount has shown a tremendous combination of size, speed and strength and is making 31 teams looks foolish for passing on him.
12. New York Giants
How did Eli Manning ever win a Super Bowl? After watching his team lose in embarrassing fashion against the Eagles, Manning had one of the worst games of his career against the Packers.
In a 45-17 shellacking, little Peyton completed just 17 of 33 passes for 301 yards, but threw four interceptions, including three in the fourth quarter as the Giants tried to storm back.
On the season, Eli has thrown a league-leading 24 interceptions and will need to re-group quickly, as New York travels to Washington on Sunday with their season on the line.
11. Indianapolis Colts
Following a win last week against the Raiders and a Jacksonville loss to Washington in overtime, the Colts control their own destiny.
As long as Indy wins their season finale against Tennessee (or Jacksonville loses again), Peyton Manning will play in the post-season for his ninth consecutive season.
Can their rush defense hold anybody in the playoffs? That remains to be seen.
10. New York Jets
After seemingly re-gaining their mojo with a victory over the Steelers, the Jets quickly regressed in a 38-34 loss to the Bears.
Chicago gained only 322 yards of total offense, but was greatly aided by a floundering Jets offense that struggled to move the ball and turned the ball over twice.
It will be interesting to see how the unit performs with Mark Brunell or Kellen Clemens under center, as Mark Sanchez will miss the season finale with a sore right shoulder.
9. Green Bay Packers
With a lopsided victory over the Giants on Sunday, the Packers jumped into the driver's seat and now control their own playoff destiny.
A win at home against Chicago would earn the 9-6 Packers a playoff berth, however a loss, coupled with either a Tampa Bay or New York victory, would end Green Bay’s season.
Nonetheless, after seeing the way Aaron Rodgers performed last week, I would not bet against the Pack.
8. Kansas City Chiefs
Led by the dynamic Jamaal Charles and the constantly underrated Thomas Jones, the Chiefs' league-leading rushing attack has propelled Kansas City into their first post-season appearance since 2006.
Matt Cassel has been tremendous, turning himself into a dark horse MVP candidate, while Romeo Crennel has helped turn around a defense that now ranks eighth in scoring defense.
7. Baltimore Ravens
This team has so much talent yet, even at 11-4, it seems they are underachieving. Led by Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed, Baltimore’s defense ranks third in the league in scoring defense, while ranking within the top ten in every other significant offensive category.
Offensively, Joe Flacco has been much improved with his upgraded receiving core. Anquan Boldin has once again shown why he is one of the league’s top receivers and Derrick Mason has once again been quietly effective.
Ray Rice has regressed in his third season and the Ravens will need an improved performance out of their versatile back if they hope to make any noise in the playoffs.
6. New Orleans Saints
Until last night, Matt Ryan sported a 21-1 home record. Better make that 21-2.
Drew Brees overcame two uncharacteristic mistakes and New Orleans re-established themselves as one the league’s premier teams with a 17-14 victory.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson have been nothing short of spectacular this season and both of the players could be in the MVP discussion. They’ve already locked up a playoff berth, but could earn home field advantage with two wins coupled with a Chicago loss in Green Bay.
The one player I would like to see receive some more recognition is LeSean McCoy. The versatile back has rushed for over 1,000 yards on fewer than 14 carries per game.
The second year back is averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per carry and has hauled in an incredible 74 receptions on the season.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
With a win on Sunday, the Steelers will win their division and earn a first round bye in the process. Led by league scapegoat James Harrison, Pittsburgh leads the NFL in sacks with 44 and scoring defense at 14.9.
Offensively, the lightning fast Mike Wallace has been instrumental in replacing the loss of Santonio Holmes, grabbing 57 balls for an astounding 1,152 yards and nine touchdowns.
3. Chicago Bears
The Bears used a dominant third quarter to defeat the New York Jets 38-34. Although I still have questions about the Bears offense (and in particular, the offensive line), there is little questioning the defense.
Julius Peppers is showing why he deserved his lucrative contract and Brian Urlacher is still one of the best linebackers in the league.
If the Bears can knock off the Packers this weekend, they can earn a first round bye and home field advantage against every team not named Atlanta.
2. Atlanta Falcons
I realize the flawed logic of ranking the Falcons ahead of the very team that defeated them last night, but I still believe Atlanta is the better team.
The Falcons defeated the Saints earlier in the season and have a better record as well. If Michael Turner hadn’t turned in one of the worst performances of his career (17 carries for 44 yards and his first fumble of the year at the one yard line!), the Falcons would have won, clinched home field advantage and cemented their place as the best team in the NFC.
Atlanta’s defense is highly underrated and John Abraham is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. The 6’4” end has quietly racked up over 100 career sacks—including 13 this season.
1. New England Patriots
Is there really any question?
They destroyed the Bears and Jets.
They easily handled the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
They knocked off the Ravens, Packers and Colts.
Other than the Eagles and Falcons, they’ve knocked off pretty much every elite team in the NFL.
Brady has turned quick and undersized players like Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and Deion Branch into stars and should take home his second MVP award this season.
The defense is young and the secondary ranks near the bottom in yards allowed, but they are opportunistic and constantly improving.
New England’s defense leads the league in both interceptions and defensive touchdowns and rookie CB Devin McCourty looks to be a future superstar in this league.