NFL Power Rankings Week 17: Which Conference Finished Stronger?
So, here we are, the moment we've all been waiting for: the NFL playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers are in after disposing of the Chicago Bears in Week 17 and capturing the final wild-card spot in the NFC.
The New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are out.
The Indianapolis Colts took care of business and beat the Tennessee Titans to capture the AFC South.
The Seattle Seahawks are surprisingly your new NFC West champion after beating the St. Louis Rams.
And the Philadelphia Eagles are officially struggling after losing to the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys to close off the regular season.
Here are my Week 17 NFL power rankings going into the playoffs.
Bottom Of the Ocean
32. Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are the only team with less than four wins this season. In fact, they had two. Their only wins this year were against the 6-10 San Francisco 49ers and the 5-11 Arizona Cardinals.
Need I say more? (Andrew) Luck couldn't arrive any sooner.
31. Denver Broncos: This team needs help in a variety of ways.
Pass defense would help. A pass rush would be nice too; they had a grand total of 23 sacks this season, last in the NFL. Better linebackers and a run-stopper on the D-line is also needed, especially after giving up 4.7 yards per carry, second-to-last in the league.
Good thing they have the second pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Swimming Up From the Darkness
30. Cincinnati Bengals: Notice I said "swimming up" from the darkness. The Bengals are still in the dark after a failed attempt to make something happen with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens (not to mention Carson Palmer all these years).
This team seriously needs a pass rush after only 27 sacks this year.
Some form of team chemistry would be nice too.
29. Buffalo Bills: The Bills only got to the quarterback 27 times this season—sense a pattern evolving in bad teams? They also gave up a league-worst 4.8 yards per carry.
Seems a long time ago that receiver Stevie Johnson flashed "Why so serious?" after scoring against the Bengals. His friends are currently asking him the same thing.
Still in the Darkness
28. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals scored 18.1 points per game this season. That's not exactly getting it done. They need a quarterback badly.
Losing 38-7 to the San Francisco 49ers to finish on the bottom of the NFC Worst does not exactly inspire for next season either.
27. San Francisco 49ers: It's a marvel this team even finished with a 6-10 record this year. Everything that could go wrong did—from team chemistry issues to worse defensive play to a revolving door of quarterbacks (none of whom really did much).
Time to draft a QB.
Wondering Why They're in The Darkness After All This Swimming
26. Cleveland Browns: Despite a losing record, this team actually played pretty well against good teams up until the last four games of the season. Then the last four weeks came; they lost all four games and reverted back to the "Same ol' Cleveland Browns."
Coach Eric Mangini was just fired after a 5-11 record. Despite having Peyton Hillis, the Browns scored 16.9 points per game this year.
Jake Delhomme, unfortunately, is not their QB of the future. Couldn't see that coming (insert sarcastic voice here).
25. Tennessee Titans: The Titans lost eight of their last nine games despite starting 5-2. The head-on collision between coach Jeff Fisher and QB Vince Young didn't help.
Their secondary was bad, evidenced by getting to the quarterback 40 times but still giving up a plethora of passing yards.
Seeing Some Light Blue Water Ahead
24. Washington Redskins: The benching of Donovan McNabb actually seemed to help this team. However, their pass defense, pass rush, and rush defense didn't.
This team needs an improvement of the defense across the board.
23. Houston Texans: Every time I look at this team's offensive depth chart I wonder how they finished 6-10.
Then I realize they gave up the most passing yards per game in the NFL (not to mention the fourth-most points). If only they scored more than 24.4 points per game...
Seeing the Surface
22. Minnesota Vikings: Rookie quarterback Joe Webb actually played pretty well after Brett Favre went down with a concussion and their defense wasn't that bad. But they scored 17.6 points per game this season despite having Adrian Peterson.
Time to draft a QB or trade for one.
21. Detroit Lions: The Lions were looking like the worst team in the league early on. Then they surprised everyone and won their last four games of the season, including against the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Coach Jim Schwartz may actually be one of Bill Belichick's former assistants that keeps his job.
But that rush defense needs to be shored up.
20. Seattle Seahawks
Despite the Seahawks beating the St. Louis Rams for the NFC West crown, I attribute that more to the Rams' play that game than the Seahawks suddenly rising up from the sea. And that's not to mention the Rams aren't exactly a top team either.
This team gave up too many passing yards this year to be scoring 19.4 points per game.
They need a QB, and they need one desperately.
19. St. Louis Rams
The Rams were looking good with Sam Bradford leading the team.
They had 43 sacks this year and didn't give many passing yards or points (20.5).
But their run defense needs help, and Bradford could use some more depth at wide receiver.
But what a meltdown against the Seahawks. I guess the thought of actually winning the NFC West frightened them.
18. Dallas Cowboys
I have high hopes for this team in 2011 if they can improve their secondary (their real glaring weakness).
The Cowboys went 5-3 after Jason Garrett was promoted as head coach.
They beat Philadelphia, 14-13, to end the season.
17. Miami Dolphins
Coach Tony Sparano actually did a good job with this team given their talent on the offensive side of the ball.
The defense played well for the most part, but it was the beleaguered backfield and their QB situation that did them in (they scored 17.1 points per game).
Chad Henne? Tyler Thigpen? Chad Pennington? Pick your poison, they will either get hurt or play like they're hurt.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars were pretty bad across the board on defense this season and they didn't score as much as they should have with David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew.
The question is: Does this team want to continue to be a tough beat or do they want to really be a playoff team?
They play well together, but not good enough.
They need to take that next step.
15. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are on the brim of becoming a playoff team.
Quarterback Jason Campbell has played well, and Darren McFadden has become a dangerous player.
Their pass defense and pass rush has been strong all season long, but they need to focus more on stopping the run, which hurt them in 2010.
There are rumors that coach Tom Cable might be on his way out despite leading the team to an 8-8 record, including two wins against the AFC West champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Let's hope for all of our sakes Al Davis doesn't let Cable go. That would be one of the most curious decisions he's made in a while—and that's saying a lot.
14. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers continue to have a great amount of talent, but not get the job done.
The Chargers were second in scoring, second in pass yards allowed per game, sixth in yards per carry allowed and tied for second in sacks.
How does this team only go 9-7 and miss the playoffs?
I point to lack of focus.
The Chargers lost five of their first seven games, and lost to the Raiders and Bengals late in the season when they needed to win.
13. New York Giants
What a disappointing finish for the New York Football Giants.
This team has the talent on both sides of the ball, but a two-game meltdown against the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers sealed their fate.
Plus, QB Eli Manning did not have a great year, as he threw 25 interceptions. He had 24 in his last two seasons combined. Eli's supposed to be taking that step to the elite level, but he's actually regressed.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers "shocked the world" this year, as they say.
Coming off a 3-13 season, there was no way anybody could predict the Bucs having the success they did.
A lot of it has to do with their young players proving to the right players to build a team on, including QB Josh Freeman, receiver Mike Williams, and running back LeGarrette Blount.
They need to improve their rush defense and their pass rush, but this team is looking like a viable contender moving forward.
They beat the New Orleans Saints to end their season.
11. Indianapolis Colts
Well, Peyton Manning and the Colts got it turned around. Just in the nick of time, huh?
Manning was starting to worry me there for a second midway through the season when he turned into an intercept-o-matic.
Thankfully, he's back in form and the world is indeed round.
The Colts could use some help at the defensive tackle position, as defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney had 21 of the team's 30 sacks this year. They also need to get better stopping the run.
10. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs may have had even more of an impressive turnaround than the Bucs this year.
Just 4-12 last season, the Chiefs ended 2010 with a 10-6 record and the AFC West division crown.
They have the top rushing attack in the NFL, a deadly connection in QB Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe, and their defense isn't too bad either, giving up 20.4 points per game.
It's going to be fun seeing the Chiefs and Bucs develop in the coming years.
9. New York Jets
The Jets are no doubt talented, but have seen some things lately that have seriously disturbed me about the team (and no, foot fetish videos isn't one of them).
They got outscored 45-3 against the Patriots, lost 10-6 against the Miami Dolphins, and gave up 38 points to Jay Cutler and the Bears.
That doesn't seem like one area that needs to be addressed. It seems like there are widespread problems.
Of course, these problems could be fixed and they could go back to being a dominant team. They have the talent.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles still give up too many points with the talent they have on the defensive side of the ball.
They score the third most points in the league with 27.4 per game, but Michael Vick has not looked the same lately, throwing five picks and losing two fumbles in his last four games.
Vick has the capability of getting this team to the Super Bowl, but have defenses started to figure him out?
7. New Orleans Saints
I actually had the Saints making it to the Super Bowl after their win against the Atlanta Falcons.
Then they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to end the regular season on a down note. But I still believe in this team, who had won seven of eight before losing to the Bucs.
They have a better defense than most people think, giving up 19.2 per game. And with Drew Brees at the helm, the offense always has the capability of exploding.
Based on the regular season, I rank them No. 7, but I think they very well could make it to the Super Bowl.
6. Chicago Bears
QB Jay Cutler continues to puzzle me.
Just when I start warming up to him, he lead the Bears to a total of three points against the Packers to end the regular season.
He's played much better the second half of the season and has shown signs of being the star quarterback people thought he would be on draft day.
But he needs to be more consistent. The Bears' defense is good enough that Cutler doesn't have to throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. If Cutler can consistently lead them to over 20 points a game, they have a chance to beat almost anybody they play.
5. Green Bay Packers
The Packers have been on a roll lately.
They barely lost to the Patriots three weeks ago with a backup QB, and they won their last two games against the New York Giants and Chicago Bears to finish 10-6 and capture the NFC's final wild-card spot.
The defense has been downright scary lately and Aaron Rodgers is looking really good.
Watch out for the Pack Attack in the playoffs.
4. Baltimore Ravens
With a 12-4 record and winners of their last four (including against the Saints), the Ravens take my No. 4 spot just ahead of the Packers.
Their win against the Saints was impressive and their defense seems to be getting things back on track.
They need to get to the quarterback more however.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
A 12-4 record, a win against the Ravens, and one of the best defenses in the league give the Steelers my No. 3 spot.
This teams is starting to look much more fluid offensively, and that's bad news for the rest of the NFL with the defense the Steelers have.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Despite losing to the New Orleans Saints, I still really like this team.
Their offense hit a rut against the Saints, but they are still one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.
Their defense has also gotten much better. They haven't given up more than 24 points since Week 7 and they gave up just 17 to the Saints.
1. New England Patriots
It's just not natural how easily this team has resolved its issues.
Poor pass defense in the beginning of the season? Gone.
Randy Moss? Gone.
Losing to the Jets in Week 2? Wait...the Patriots lost to the Jets?
It seems so long ago.
This team is playing seamlessly right now and have won eight straight going into the playoffs. It's going to take a great performance to keep them from winning the Super Bowl.