NFL Power Rankings for Week 17 (Dec. 25, 2013)

peyton-manning-broncosThe 2013 NFL regular season is rolling to a close, but much of the playoff picture is still unclear heading into the final week. Not one NFC division title has been sewn up, while there are still four teams alive for the last AFC Wild Card spot. Fortunately, the jumbled playoff mess will be sorted out this weekend through wins, losses, and a series of tiebreakers that only a computer can keep track of.

1. Denver Broncos (12-3); beat Houston 37-13, moves up one spot – No surprise here as Denver sent Houston spiraling towards their 13th straight loss. The most meaningful news to come out of this game involved Peyton Manning breaking Tom Brady’s all-time record for touchdown passes in a season (50). Manning threw for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns, the last of which was the record-breaking number 51.

2. Seattle Seahawks (12-3); lost to Arizona 17-10, drops one spot – It’s been a while, but Seattle finally lost at home. And it was an ugly loss marked by several turnovers. If Seattle is truly to compete for a Super Bowl title this year, Russell Wilson needs to step his game up. He has three TD’s, three INT’s, and has been sacked 10 times in the last three games.

3. San Francisco 49ers (11-4); beat Atlanta 34-24, retains same ranking – The last ever game at Candlestick Park was a good one! With Atlanta driving for a potential game-winning score, NaVorro Bowman intercepted a Matt Ryan pass and took it back 89 yards for a touchdown. With Michael Crabtree now back and playing well (5REC, 102YDS), the Niners are going to be a dangerous playoff team.

4. New England Patriots (11-4); beat Baltimore 41-7, moves up one spot – Wow! New England walks into a playoff-hungry team’s den, then spanks them by 34 points! The Pats have looked inconsistent at times, but everything was working last Sunday – from the defense to the running game (34 carries for 142 yards).

cam-newton5. Carolina Panthers (11-4); beat New Orleans 17-13, moves up two spots – Cam Newton’s maturity level has greatly improved this year, and it really showed on the game-winning. With just 23 seconds left, Newton had the poise to find Domenik Hixon in the end zone from 14 yards out. Aside from Newton’s late-game heroics, the defense should be commended since they intercepted Drew Brees twice and sacked him six times.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4); lost to Indianapolis 23-7, drops two spots – We’d been commending Kansas City’s offense, up until now. They looked completely terrible at home against a mediocre Colts defense. Much of the problem can be attributed to the normally steady Alex Smith. He fumbled once and was picked off twice in this rough loss.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5); beat Minnesota 42-14, moves up one spot – Cincinnati remains perfect at home, thanks to 366 passing yards and 4 touchdowns from Andy Dalton. Oh, and Vincent Rey returning an interception 25 yards for a TD didn’t hurt either. The Bengals are now headed for their third straight playoff appearance.

8. Arizona Cardinals (10-5); beat Seattle 17-10, moves up one spot – You’ve got to hand it to Arizona, walking into Seattle’s home territory and actually coming out with a win. Of course, this weekend won’t be much easier because they have to beat San Francisco to keep their playoff hopes alive. We can only imagine the disappointment if the Cardinals win 11 games, yet fail to make the postseason.

9. Indianapolis Colts (10-5); beat Kansas City 23-7, moves up one spot – After a mid-season slump, the Colts are back to playing some good football. They’ve won three straight games and have held opponents to 10 points over the past two weeks. Granted, one of those opponents was Houston, but still…

10. New Orleans (10-5); lost to Carolina 17-13, drops four spots – It’s highly likely that the Saints will beat Tampa Bay at home and grab the final playoff NFC spot over Arizona. Even still, there are some pressing questions here – namely how New Orleans plays on the road. Their record away from the Superdome is only 3-5, and if Carolina wins, every postseason game the Saints play will be on the road.

lesean-mccoy11. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6); beat Chicago 54-11, retains same ranking – The Eagles deserve to move up after demolishing the Bears. But there’s not much room in the top 10 right now. Regardless, their running game was a thing of beauty as they racked up 289 rushing yards and 3 TD’s. LeSean McCoy led the way with 133 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, while Bryce Brown added 118 yards and a TD on just nine carries.

12. Dallas Cowboys (8-7); beat Washington 24-23, moves up three spots – Tony Romo led a dramatic, comeback victory against the Redskins. Unfortunately, his status for this week’s game against Philadelphia is up in the air because of a back injury. This is very bad news too because, for the second year in a row, Dallas is playing for the NFC East title in the last week of the regular season.

13. San Diego Chargers (8-7); beat Oakland 26-13, moves up three spots – The Chargers keep winning and staying in the playoff race. This time, it was Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead leading the way after combining for 151 rushing yards. Now they have to beat Kansas City again, and hope that the Ravens and Dolphins lose this weekend to reach the playoffs.

14. Baltimore Ravens (8-7); lost to New England 41-7, drops two spots – With a chance to further cement their chances of grabbing the last AFC Wild Card spot, Baltimore got embarrassed at home. Not only was their offense completely ineffective, but they also let New England run wild on them. Now they must win in Cincinnati, where the Bengals haven’t lost yet.

15. Miami Dolphins (8-7); lost to Buffalo 19-0, drops two spots – This game all came down to the rushing attacks, with Buffalo obliterating Miami. The Bills gained 203 rushing yards on 51 carries while the Dolphins tallied just 14 yards on 12 carries. Now in a tie with Baltimore for the final playoff spot, Miami is going to need some help to reach the postseason.

jay-cutler-injury16. Chicago Bears (8-7); lost to Philadelphia 54-11, drops two spots – This is the third team in a row on this list that blew a golden opportunity last weekend. Chicago could have wrapped up the NFC North division with a victory over Philly. While this was no easy task, they not only lost, but got completely embarrassed. It looks like Jay Cutler will be back in the saddle in the Bears’ all-important game against Green Bay.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8); beat Green Bay 38-31, moves up two spots – It’s amazing that Pittsburgh is even in the playoff picture this week, given that they started out 0-4. It’s interesting to think about what may have been if rookie RB Le’Veon Bell hadn’t missed several games to start the year.

18. Green Bay Packers (7-7-1); lost to Pittsburgh 38-31, drops one spot – There’s talk that Aaron Rodgers might return for the final regular season game. And this would be a huge lift since Green Bay can still win the NFC North by beating Chicago. But on a down note, they’ll probably be without Clay Matthews and Eddie Lacy.

19. St. Louis Rams (7-8); beat Tampa Bay 23-13, moves up one spot – St. Louis continues to improve and offer hope for next year. It looks like they’ve definitely found a star running back in Zac Stacy, who again had a big day with 104 rushing yards and a touchdown.

20. New York Jets (7-8); beat Cleveland 24-13, moves up one spot – Geno Smith had his first game with two touchdown passes since October. The embattled rookie also iced the game with a touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately this win won’t save Rex Ryan’s job, who already informed his team that he’s gone after this year.

21. New York Giants (6-9); beat Detroit 23-20 (OT), moves up one spot – The Giants tried to give this game away, with Eli Manning throwing an interception towards the end of regulation, and Andre Brown fumbling on the opening possession of overtime. But they were able to hold the Lions and allow Josh Brown to kick a game-winning 45-yard field goal.

22. Detroit Lions (7-8); lost to New York Giants 23-20 (OT), drops two spots – The Lions’ miserable slide continues and they’re now officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Detroit fans grew angry when coach Jim Schwartz elected to run out the clock in regulation, despite having two timeouts left and 23 seconds. With the Lions on their own 25, it’s not entirely ridiculous that Schwartz decided to play conservatively. However, he made things worse by yelling something back at the crowd when they were booing.

23. Tennessee Titans (6-9); beat Jacksonville 20-16, retains same ranking – Tennessee finally stopped a three-game slide. Nate Washington had a huge game as he caught 6 passes for 117 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown from 30 yards out.

cj-spiller24. Buffalo Bills (6-9); beat Miami 19-0, moves up two spots – As a team with nothing really left to play for, Buffalo definitely gave a nice effort in this contest. Their run game was especially killer to the Dolphins, with Fred Jackson racking up 111 yards and CJ Spiller adding 77 yards.

25. Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1); lost to Cincinnati 42-14, drops one spot – Adrian Peterson returned from a foot injury suffered last week, but it really didn’t matter. Matt Cassel suddenly remembered that he’s Matt Cassel, completing 13-of-27 passes for 114 yards, 1 TD, and 3 interceptions.

26. Atlanta Falcons (4-11); lost to San Francisco 34-24, drops one spot – Overall, this is definitely a year to forget for Roddy White and the Falcons. But he at least finished the season strong, catching 35 passes for 411 yards over the past four games.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11); lost to Tennessee 20-16, retains same ranking – Jacksonville was actually in a position to take the lead late in this game, but Maurice Jones-Drew got stuffed on a fourth-and-1 run with 5:21 left.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11); lost to St. Louis 23-13, retains same ranking – The Buccaneers pass protection was bad, as they gave up seven sacks to the Rams. This fact alone made it very difficult for QB Mike Glennon to move the Bucs downfield.

29. Cleveland Browns (4-11); lost to New York Jets 24-13, retains same ranking – Cleveland has now lost six straight games, and they also lost star tight end Jordan Cameron to a concussion in this game.

30. Oakland Raiders (4-11); lost to Kansas City 56-31, retains same ranking – The latest controversy to emerge from Oakland involves Terrelle Pryor’s agent saying that the decision to start him in the finale is a conspiracy. The logic is that Allen wants Pryor to fail against Denver, thus making it look like starting Matt McGloin for the past six games was a good decision. Maybe this isn’t quite so far-fetched, but the fact that Pryor’s agent aired it publicly is baffling.

31. Washington Redskins (3-12); lost to Dallas 24-23, retains same ranking – Pierre Garcon continues to have a monster season, catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in this game. For the season, he has 107 catches for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns.

32. Houston Texans (2-13); lost to Denver 37-13, retains same ranking – The depleted Texans dropped their 13th game in a row, and they’ll try for a win one last time at Tennessee.