NFL Power Rankings: Assessing League's Hierarchy Heading into Week 17

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IDecember 24, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is congratulated by head coach Pete Carroll after the Seahawks offense scored a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Candlestick Park on December 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There's just one week left in the regular season, and I am more confused than ever as to which team is the NFL's best. 

I had the Seahawks sitting atop my power rankings perch the last few weeks, but after a home defeat to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16, the Seahawks didn't exactly entrench themselves at No. 1. 

Thanks the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins, sorting out the bottom of the rankings is not quite as difficult. 

With just one week left in the regular season, here is how I see the balance of power shaking out. 

1. Seattle Seahawks 

All of a sudden, the Seahawks have lost two of the last three and the last one was at home. The air of invincibility surrounding this team in Seattle has dissipated. 

The Seahawks dismantled the Saints in Seattle in Week 13, but other than that, this team hasn't been all that impressive at home in recent play. 

Among its last five home games, Seattle has lost to Arizona, needed overtime to beat the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was not impressive while beating the Tennessee Titans, 20-13.

I had been convinced that if the Seahawks earned home field, they would not be denied a trip to the Super Bowl. I am no longer convinced of that.   

2. Carolina Panthers  

On a day when he was at less than his best, Cam Newton led a game-winning drive that culminated with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with just 23 seconds left. 

This allowed the Panthers to down the New Orleans Saints and take control of the NFC South. 

The late-game triumph will also leave Newton and his teammates better prepared for the playoffs. 

3. San Francisco 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Wide receiver Anquan Boldin #81 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates against the Atlanta Falcons during a game at Candlestick Park on December 23, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers enter Week 17 facing a lot of possibilities. They could still wind up with the NFC's No. 1 seed.

Of course, they will also face a surging Arizona Cardinals team on the road. That NFC West showdown is going to be brutal.

If the 49ers can win that one and the Seahawks lose to the Rams, the 49ers will win the NFC West and have a first-round bye. 

4. New England Patriots

No team made a bigger impression in Week 17 than the New England Patriots. The Patriots authored a stellar defensive effort that created four Ravens turnovers and featured a running game that gained 142 yards at an average of 4.2 yards per carry.  

This, combined with scoring 21 points in the last 2:05 of game time, led the Patriots to a 41-7 win. 

If the Patriots defense can keep forcing turnovers, this team is going to be very tough to beat. 

5. Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning and the NFL's No. 1-rated passing attack give the Broncos a chance to beat every team. Denver's sinking defense, however, puts too much pressure on that offense. 

The Broncos held the Texans to 13 points this past Sunday, but that's the Texans. The Broncos will be facing real NFL teams in the playoffs. 

In their four games prior to that, Denver had not held an opponent under 27 points.

This certainly isn't going to help its defense improve: 

6. Cincinnati Bengals

With a thorough 42-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Bengals were able to wrap up the AFC North. After a mistake-filled defeat against the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous week, that performance was a welcomed sight. 

The Bengals will host the Ravens in Week 17, and they enter the week with a shot at capturing a first-round bye. 

7. New Orleans Saints

The Saints haven't scored more than 17 points in any of their last four road games. This is especially problematic since New Orleans isn't likely to get a home playoff game. 

The Saints are still alive in the NFC South, but they need the Panthers to lose in Atlanta to the Falcons while they need to beat the Buccaneers at home. It's hard to see the Panthers coming this far only to fall to the Falcons.

8. Indianapolis Colts 

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 22:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs is sacked by outside linebacker Robert Mathis #98 and defensive end Cory Redding #90 of the Indianapolis Colts during the game at Arrowhead Stadium on December 22, 2013 i
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With a dominant 23-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts won consecutive games for the first time since Week 9. 

The Colts will host the Jacksonville Jaguars this week and will hope to continue to build positive momentum for the postseason. If the Colts win and both the Bengals and Patriots lose, the Colts will be the AFC's No. 2 seed.  

9. Kansas City Chiefs 

The Kansas City Chiefs are locked in as the AFC's No. 1 wild-card team. Although this would make its Week 17 contest against the San Diego Chargers a good time to rest its stars, Kansas City needs to get back on track. 

The Chiefs were whooped by the Indianapolis Colts last week, and that game was in Kansas City. 

The previous week, the Chiefs won by 25 points, but they also allowed undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin to lead the Raiders to 31 points. 

It's going to be a short trip to the postseason for Kansas City if it doesn't improve upon recent form. 

10. Philadelphia Eagles 

The Eagles lead the league in yards per pass and rush. They are also fourth in the NFL yards allowed per rush. The secondary leaves something to be desired, but with those other numbers, the Eagles have a potent mix. 

Of course, when considering any stat from the Eagles, it is important to remember that this team enjoyed playing in the lowly NFC East, and it still needs to beat the Cowboys in Week 17 to win that division. 

11. Baltimore Ravens

The defending Super Bowl champions don't control their own destiny, but they stand a good chance of getting into the playoffs. In fact, if Miami and San Diego lose and the Steelers do not win, the Ravens will get in regardless of the outcome of their game with the Bengals. 

Of course, the Ravens would be well served to beat the Bengals. In that case, they will get in as long as the Chargers and Dolphins don't both win. 

The Chargers host the Chiefs and the Dolphins host the Jets.

12. Chicago Bears 

The Chicago Bears had a chance to wrap up the NFC North. They just needed to beat the Eagles. They fell a little short, if you consider a 54-11 defeat a little. 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 22: Safety Major Wright #21 of the Chicago Bears attempts to tackle running back Bryce Brown #34 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter of a game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pe
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Now the Bears will host the Green Bay Packers with the division on the line. None of that is going to matter much, however, if the Bears don't fix a defense that is 32nd in yards allowed per rush and 26th in yards allowed per pass. 

13. Green Bay Packers 

The Green Bay Packers will be playing a make-or-break game against the Bears next week and the status of quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains up in the air. 

Even without Rodgers, the Packers can't be counted out. They have scored at least 31 points in each of their last two games, and the Bears can't stop anyone. 

14. Miami Dolphins 

It's hard to believe, but after all the drama and ups and downs of the Dolphins' season, Miami is still in the hunt for the postseason. 

If the Dolphins beat the Jets in Miami in Week 17, either a Baltimore loss or San Diego win will get them into the postseason. 

15. San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers have won three straight, but this surging team doesn't have the best odds of making the postseason. If the Chargers beat the Chiefs in San Diego in Week 17, they will still need both the Ravens and Dolphins not to emerge with victories. 

16. Detroit Lions 

Well, the Detroit Lions had the NFC North in the palm of their hand and they blew it. Did we expect anything else from this talented team that can't seem to get out of its own way? 

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Head coach Jim Schwartz looks on while playing the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on November 28, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Lions have lost three straight and five of their last six to enter Week 17 already eliminated from the playoffs. 

17. Arizona Cardinals 

If this team can go into Seattle, watch Carson Palmer throw four picks and still beat the Seahawks, it can overcome anything. 

Now the Cardinals must avoid losing to the 49ers in Arizona and hope for a loss by the Saints against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get into the postseason. 

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Bucs are ill-prepared to give them the assistance they need.

18. Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys earned the kind of clutch win that has avoided this team with a 24-23 triumph over the Washington Redskins. 

That positive momentum lasted less than 24 hours. Although the club is not admitting as much yet, it appears Tony Romo's season is over: 

19. Pittsburgh Steelers 

The AFC playoff picture is so wild that the Pittsburgh Steelers can still get in. The Steelers will have to beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 and then have the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all lose. 

Although their chances of making the postseason are slim, fans in Pittsburgh can't be overly upset over the finish of their team considering it started the season 0-4. 

20. St. Louis Rams 

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  Head coach Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals defeated the Rams 30-10.  (Photo by C
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Rams have won two straight by double digits and have shown nice signs of improvement as the season has progressed.

Combine that with the fact that the Redskins are about to hand the Rams a premium draft pick, and there is reason for optimism in St. Louis.

Now the Rams just have to figure out what to do about quarterback Sam Bradford this offseason. 

21. New York Jets 

The New York Jets have had a disappointing second half of the season after overachieving in the first half.

The Jets will look to build off of Sunday's performance in which they took down the Cleveland Browns, 24-13.

Most importantly, the Jets will hope Geno Smith builds on that performance. The rookie quarterback entered Sunday's game having thrown eight interceptions and two touchdowns in his previous five games. He threw two touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 16.

22. New York Giants 

The New York Giants had the privilege of ending the Detroit Lions' playoff hopes last week. There isn't a lot else for them to be happy about. In that game, Eli Manning threw an interception (shocking, I know). He now has 26 on the season and is not showing any signs of turning around his wretched play. 

23. Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans have won just three times since starting off the season at 3-1. The Titans, however, managed to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16 and now have a chance to end the season on a two-game winning streak as they host the Houston Texans in Week 17. 

24. Buffalo Bills

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 15:  Head coach Doug Marrone of the Buffalo Bills watches the action during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 15, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have won two straight games, and the last was an impressive 19-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins. 

The defensive effort was especially impressive. If the Bills can get anywhere near that kind of success on defense in Week 17 against the Patriots, this franchise will take a boatload of positive momentum into the offseason.

25. Minnesota Vikings 

The Minnesota Vikings just need to get to next season, and in the offseason, the Vikings must figure out how to improve upon a defense that is 32nd against the pass. 

That defense allowed the Bengals' Andy Dalton to throw for over 350 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 16. 

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

After winning three straight and four of five, the Jaguars have gone back to their losing ways and are currently locked in a two-game losing streak. 

Still, they were competitive in both losses, and they are dealing with extensive injuries. There is a reason for optimism for this downtrodden franchise. 

27. Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders are limping to the finish line with five straight losses. Faced with the prospect of hosting the Broncos in Week 17, Oakland is staring at the possibility of ending the season on a six-game losing streak.

My guess is that is more than Dennis Allen's career with the Raiders can stand.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an interesting offseason ahead of them. Tampa Bay has not had much success in two years under coach Greg Schiano. The Bucs have won just four games this season, but all four have come in the last seven games.

It will certainly help Schiano's case that this team did not quit on him.

29. Cleveland Browns

The Browns are seriously limping to the finish line. Cleveland has lost six straight and very little is going well for it. 

The Browns showed real potential on defense early in the year, but they haven't held a single opponent over their last six games under 24 points.  

30. Atlanta Falcons

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons passes against the San Francisco 49ers during a game at Candlestick Park on December 23, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons can take some solace out of the fact that they laid out a strong effort against the 49ers and had a chance to beat them in San Francisco late in the game. And that is what this season has been reduced to for the Falcons. 

After entering the season with dreams of the Super Bowl, the Falcons are taking moral victories from losses. 

31. Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins have gone from one of the darlings of the NFL to one of the laughingstocks, and it all happened over the course of one season. 

Washington has lost seven straight games and the only thing this franchise appears to be excelling in is dysfunction. 

32. Houston Texans 

The Texans started this 2-0. Now they are 2-13 and have to be ecstatic there is just one game left before the offseason. 

Hopefully this franchise has already begun mapping out its offseason because there is a lot of work to be done. 

All team rankings and season stats via TeamRankings.com on Monday, Dec. 23 prior to Monday night's game. 

All playoff scenarios via NFL.com.