NFL Power Rankings Week 17: Which Conference Finished Stronger?

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IJanuary 4, 2011

NFL Power Rankings Week 17: Which Conference Finished Stronger?

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 02:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown by teammate BenJarvis Green-Ellis in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins on January 2, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa
    Elsa/Getty Images

    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

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    CLEVELAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach John Fox of the Carolina Panthers reacts to a call against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    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

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    CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 21:  Chad Ochocinco #85 and Terrell Owens #81 of the Cincinnati Bengals watch from the sideline during the final minutes of the Bengals 49-31 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on November 21, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    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

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    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 05:  Quarterback John Skelton #19 of the Arizona Cardinals talks with Derek Anderson #3 on the sidelines during the NFL game against the St. Louis Rams at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    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

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    CLEVELAND - SEPTEMBER 2:  Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini looks on during the preseason game against the Chicago Bears on September 2, 2010 at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Bears 13-10.  (Photo by Justin K.
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    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

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    ASHURN, VA - APRIL 6:  Mike Shanahan, head coach of the Washington Redskins presents Donovan McNabb with his new jersey during a press conference on April 6, 2010 at Redskin Park in Ashburn, Virginia.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    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

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    MIAMI - DECEMBER 26: Coach Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions celebrates a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on December 26, 2010 in Miami, Florida. The Lions defeated the Dolphins 34-27.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    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

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 02:  A fan of the Seattle Seahawks holds a sign during their game against the St. Louis Rams at Qwest Field on January 2, 2011 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    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

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams lays on the ground after being hit by defensive end Raheem Brock #98 of the Seattle Seahawks during their game at Qwest Field on January 2, 2011 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo b
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    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

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 02:  Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles on January 2, 2011 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles 14-13.  (Photo by Jim McIs
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    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

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 12:  Head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Tony Sparano on the sideline against the New York Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium on December 12, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    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

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Quarterback David Garrard #9 of the Jacksonville Jaguars hands the ball off to running back Maurice Jones-Drew #32 against the Tennessee Titans during the game at EverBank Field on October 18, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    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

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 14:  Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders carries the ball as Jon McGraw #47 of the Kansas City Chiefs defends during the first half fo the game on September 14, 2008 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    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

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    CINCINNATI - DECEMBER 26:  Philip Rivers #17  of the San Diego Chargers is dejected after throwing an interception during the Chargers 34-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on December 26, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (P
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    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

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    GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 26:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is congratulated by Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants after their game at Lambeau Field on December 26, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    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

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    SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 21:  Mike Williams #19 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is congratulated by Josh Freeman #5 after he scored a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 21, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by E
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    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

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    INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 02:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts gives instructions to his team during NFL game against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    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

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    SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 28:  Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe #82 of the Kansas City Chiefs is congratulated by quarterback Matt Cassel #7 and Tony Moeaki #81after scoring a touchdown to take a 34-17 lead against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on November 28, 20
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    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

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 02:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets looks on against the Buffalo Bills during their game at New Meadowlands Stadium on January 2, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    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

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 28:  Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles fumbles against Jimmy Kennedy #73 of the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field on December 26, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    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

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints warms up before playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Louisiana Superdome on January 2, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    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

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    GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears is sacked by Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 2, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    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

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    GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers circles the field after the Packers win over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on January 2, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    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

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    BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 2:  Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates a fumble recovery during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals  at M&T Bank Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bengals 13-6. (Photo by L
    Larry French/Getty Images

    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

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    CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 02:  Wide receiver Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after scoring a touchdown with wide receiver Mike Wallace #17 against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.
    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    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

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 27:  Roddy White #84 and Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate a first half touchdown during the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome on December 27, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    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

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    FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 02:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown by teammate BenJarvis Green-Ellis in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins on January 2, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa
    Elsa/Getty Images

    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.

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