Week 17 NFL power rankings: The Broncos are starting to slide

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Week 17 NFL power rankings: The Broncos are starting to slide

1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)

Every once in a while, the Patriots will obliterate the Jets, imposing their will on a hated rival. Lately, however, that hasn’t been the case, as their last four meetings have been decided by a field goal or less. With that being said, the Patriots escaping New Jersey with a one-point victory over the lowly Jets does little to impact New England’s standing in the eyes of the viewing public. Instead, the Patriots, now proud owners of home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs simply keep winning games. In fact, they have done so more than any other team this season.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

2. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 4)

Good teams beat bad teams. Great teams beat good times. Special teams win games that matter more than others. When the Seattle Seahawks entered Week 12 at 6-4, three full games behind the Cardinals for the division lead, they began a run of destiny that would ultimately feature two wins against Arizona along the way. The second, and most critical of the two due to the implications, have now pushed the Cardinals out of the way so that Seattle could regain its deserving position atop the NFC West. Everything Seattle has accomplished since its pedestrian 3-3 proves that they are one of the toughest, most dangerous teams in the league.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

3. Green Bay Packers (LW: 3)

Granted it wasn’t the massive blowout people expected for a Green Bay team coming off a tough road loss, but the Packers traveled to Tampa Bay and took care of business. The Packers’ prolific offense was held to under 21 points for the second straight game – as well as under 27 points for the fourth time in five games – and the return to planet earth may raise a few eyebrows. Regardless, the team will face their biggest test in Week 17 when they host the Detroit Lions and their defense, ranked second in both yards and points allowed. Of course, the long-awaited matchup will truly set the stage of the NFC playoff picture, as the winner could potentially secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the loser may fall as low as the sixth seed.

(Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

4. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 6)

The Cowboys just keep opening eyes. With a deadly running game and a passing attack that people love to downplay, Dallas has won ‘statement game’ after ‘statement game,’ most recently dominating the Indianapolis Colts. The defense that was largely considered a liability has been anything but, allowing 30 or more points only twice all season. Tied with seemingly every other NFC playoff participant, the Cowboys — even considered an unlikely playoff team by owner Jerry Jones — may find themselves with home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

(Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

5. Denver Broncos (LW: 2)

It’s a bad time of the year to raise question marks, but the once dominant Denver Broncos have looked a lot more vulnerable in recent weeks. Despite winning four straight games entering their Week 16 Monday Night Football matchup in Cincinnati, the team’s scoring had decreased in each of these victories. Finally, they were caught. With the loss, Denver has conceded home field advantage throughout the playoffs to New England, and has its first-round bye in jeopardy as well. The Broncos are certainty capable of overcoming their hiccup in Cincinnati, but it is naive to ignore how their wins have been less convincing of late.

(Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

6. Detroit Lions (LW: 8)

Detroit continues to play to the level of its competition, allowing the Bears to hang around long enough to need yet another fourth-quarter comeback. With the Lions’ fifth such comeback, it has now become a characteristic of this ‘no-quit’ team, with no game truly out of reach. Regardless of what has transpired prior to Week 17, the highly desired matchup of the Lions’ top-ranked defense against the prolific Packers’ offense will finally come to fruition and decide the NFC North.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 9)

Finally, the Steelers may have found their footing. After an incredibly inconsistent start to the season, Pittsburgh has now won seven of its last nine games, including their last three. With Sunday’s win against the Chiefs, the Steelers were rewarded for their recent string of solid play with a playoff berth. In addition, they get the chance to play for the division and a potential first-round bye when they host the Bengals in Week 17. At least, the formerly 3-3 Steelers have turned what looked like a mediocre season into a trip to the postseason.

(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

8. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 11)

Maybe this isn’t the Bengals of the past few years. While Cincinnati will enter the postseason for the fourth consecutive year, it might have finally won a clutch game before the postseason began altogether. With their home victory over the Broncos, the Bengals flexed their muscles on national television and went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the league. The victory was obviously critical to push Cincinnati into the playoffs, but should also give an added boost to the morale as a team with four playoff appearances in its last five seasons will look to add its first postseason win since January 6, 1991, one year before running back Jeremy Hill was born.

(Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

9. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 5)

It’s no secret that the Indianapolis Colts have feasted on weak opponents. Basically handed four wins — the fourth of which should come on Sunday against Tennessee — by playing the Jaguars and Titans twice, but struggle against good teams — now 4-4 against teams currently with a winning record. Their offense remains one of the best in the league — top-five in both points and yards — and they have the league leader in touchdown passes anchoring the most important position on the field, but they cannot possibly head to January feeling overly confident about their performances when the competition level ramps up. The postseason will tell the story, and nothing that happens in Tennessee — nothing except an epic collapse, that is — should move the needle on the Colts’ meter.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

10. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 6)

The Cardinals are in trouble. However long they felt they could last without Carson Palmer, it has proven to be even shorter. Perhaps this is due to Drew Stanton also going down with an injury, but the team that had once been complete enough to overcome losses features a gaping hole under center. Of course, the expectation is that Stanton will be back at a serviceable capacity when calendar turns, but Arizona has been stripped down and exposed. The Cardinals look nothing like what their former 9-1 selves showed.

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

11. San Diego Chargers (LW: 14)

They aren’t as convincingly dominant as the former versions of themselves that started the year 5-1, but the San Diego Chargers have re-ascended back into the playoff picture with an unbelievable comeback in San Francisco on Saturday night. The Chargers have played some of the toughest teams down the stretch, and the fact that a Ravens loss now slides San Diego back into the sixth seed is a credit to San Diego’s survivalist nature in the second half of the season.

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

12. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 10)

They have certainly looked like one of the league’s best teams at times, but the Eagles’ three-game losing streak has dropped them from ‘contender’ to ‘officially eliminated.’ Two of the losses during the skid came against top-notch talent from Seattle and Dallas, but Week 16’s defeat in Washington exploited Philadelphia for the flawed team it is. Perhaps the fast-paced offensive game plan will indeed work in the National Football League, but not when coupled with a porous defense prone to giving up big plays.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

13. Houston Texans (LW: 17)

There is perhaps no team that finds ways to win games they shouldn’t besides the Houston Texans. Down to its fourth-string quarterback, the Texans stunned the visiting Ravens, making plays by any means necessary, including a touchdown pass from running back Arian Foster. It makes sense that this is the same team whose defensive end has three touchdown receptions on the year. Clearly better than most people want to recognize, the Texans still have an outside chance to steal a Wild Card berth with some help – the first of which coming from a friendly schedule, as Houston will host the 3-12 Jaguars to close the season.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

14. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 13)

Can the Ravens ever put anyone away? Not just in a single game — as one of their defining moments was blowing a late lead to the Chargers in Week 13 — but even during the season, as a whole. When given the opportunity to rectify its struggles in the division by playing a Texans’ team down to its fourth-string quarterback, the Ravens still can’t get the job done. This coming one week after beating the Jaguars, at home, in a game that turned out much closer than it should have been. They simply refuse to make it easy. As a punishment, the Ravens will need an assist to re-enter the playoff pool. Then again, this is when they do some of their best work.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

15. Miami Dolphins (LW: 16)

The future will remain intact — following the Dolphins’ Week 16 home victory, it was announced that head coach Joe Philbin will be retained for next season — but the present opportunities were missed. Through a hard-fought season of tough losses and key wins, the Dolphins had put themselves in a position to grab one of the two AFC Wild Card spots. That was until Miami lost three of four games leading into Week 16. With another wild outcome — this time, a blocked punt for a safety that ultimately gave Miami the win — the Dolphins have pushed their record to a point where they can’t have a losing season. The issue, however, is that they had put together a solid enough campaign to warrant postseason consideration. That is, until they squandered it.

(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

16. Buffalo Bills (LW: 12)

These are the Buffalo Bills in a nutshell. Finally able to sustain early season success to the tune of an 8-6 record and a realistic chance of a playoff berth entering Week 14, the Bills — fresh off a monumental upset of the Green Bay Packers — travel to Oakland and lose to the Raiders. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Buffalo has nothing about which to be disappointed this year, as the team made a critical quarterback change a few games into the season and helped keep the playoff dream alive later into the season than in most years. Even though they eventually fell short, the Bills proved to be one of the league’s better teams that won’t reach the postseason.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

17. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 15)

Kansas City has played three seasons this year — 2-3 to start the year, then 5-0, followed by 2-3 again. The ‘middle-of-the-year’ Chiefs obviously looked like another version of what they brought to the table last year, but they simply dug themselves too deep a whole this time around. With three division losses, including a sweep at the hands of the Broncos, the Chiefs had already been eliminated from the AFC West. With their loss in Pittsburgh, their fate officially has been left in the hands of others. At least, assuming every single factor doesn’t go the Chiefs’ way, the two years of quarterback Alex Smith and head coach Andy Reid should give hope that a respectable product will be displayed on the field each season.

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

18. Cleveland Browns (LW: 18)

Once in a dogfight for the most hotly contested division in football, the 7-4 Browns have now lost four consecutive games and fallen back under .500 for the first time since Week 3. Cleveland had made huge strides this season, and was on the verge of turning around its persona as a ‘perennial loser,’ but the Browns proved they may have been playing over their heads all along. Worse, Cleveland had committed to letting quarterback Johnny Manziel play out the team’s remaining games as a type of audition for next year, until he left the team’s Week 16 matchup in Carolina with a hamstring injury. Now at 7-8, the only thing the Browns have to play for is the prospect of its first non-losing season since 2007.

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

19. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 23)

It seems to be asked on a weekly basis, but are the Falcons actually any good? Being 5-0 in one’s division is usually a solid indication of winning clutch games against tough rivals, but no one is impressed when the three opponents with which Atlanta is fighting have a combined fourteen wins in sixteen weeks. Even if the Falcons hold serve at home and sweep the NFC South to win the dismal division, they will still enter the playoffs with an absurd record of 1-9 in all other games. They do, however, tout a top-ten offense, something that could serve them well if they can get past Carolina and into the postseason.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

20. St. Louis Rams (LW: 19)

It will be another losing season in St. Louis — now eight consecutive years — but 2014 appears to be nothing like the rest. After a dismal 1-4 start to the year, the Rams ran off a 5-3 string of games that featured wins against the Broncos and Seahawks. In every conceivable way, St. Louis looks to have turned a corner, only to finally run out of gas when it met the Cardinals and Giants in consecutive weeks. The Rams and head coach Jeff Fisher may be on the verge of building something special in St. Louis, provided the team finds a quarterback.

(Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

21. New Orleans Saints (LW: 19)

Mercy has finally been granted. What has long been a season to forget finally came to an official end when the now 6-9 Saints were eliminated from playoff contention with a home loss to the Falcons. About five weeks after they should have been. Even with the league’s top offense in yards gained, the Saints simply could never overcome their struggles, furthered largely by one of the worst defenses in the league. Seemingly always getting the benefit of the doubt because of their pedigree, the Saints finally proved that this wasn’t their year, after all.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

22. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 21)

San Francisco is about to enter a massive transition, no matter how the team finishes its season. With head coach Jim Harbaugh coaching one of his final two games for the 49ers, the team looked poised to give one final boost to the résumé with an impressive home win against the Chargers. Only to blow it. Being unable to hold onto a three-touchdown lead is a microcosm of the 49ers’ inability to ever gain and sustain momentum this year. Maybe the complete changeover will bring a solution.

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

23. New York Giants (LW: 25)

Really, who is surprised? The Giants do this every year. If they get off to a hot start, they cool by season’s end. If they start the season 0-6, they finish 7-9. This year, with a seven-game losing streak to drop them to 3-9, they promptly win three games in a row to pull to within one of another 7-9 campaign. They still aren’t a good football, team, but they are nowhere near the basement where they lived for much of the year.  With one more win, they will avoid a double-digit loss season for the tenth consecutive season.

(Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

24. Carolina Panthers (LW: 24)

Don’t look now, but there are finally only two teams remaining in the NFC South race. With Carolina’s third straight victory, the Panthers move into first place in the division, and now travel to Atlanta for a Week 17 showdown that will decide which team has ‘earned’ a home playoff game. While it has long been established that no one from the NFC South has put together a playoff-worthy campaign, the Panthers have, at least won important games down the stretch. Too bad each of their opponents have losing records.

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

25. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 22)

Watch out for the 2015 Minnesota Vikings. If the conclusion to any one season is an indication of the what may happen in the next, Minnesota might be one of the big sleepers months from now. 4-4 since Week 8, the Vikings haven’t lost a game by more than one score since Week 6. Admittedly, nothing about those statistics are eye-popping, but that’s the key. The Vikings have failed to win most of their close games, but continue to compete on a weekly basis. With that, they have quietly built the foundation for a possible future. At least, one team that will end their season with a losing record has shown an incredible amount of pride as the year draws to a close.

(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

26. Chicago Bears (LW: 26)

In what was the first glimpse of a potential life without Jay Cutler in Chicago, the Bears played arguably their most inspired game, taking a lead against the Lions into the fourth quarter. Of course, they eventually lost, as the Bears have proven to be one of the most disappointing teams in the league all season, likely heading towards a full rebuild. In that regard, it looks as if the current regime might be playing its final game together as a unit in a meaningless trip to Minnesota.

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

27. Washington Redskins (LW: 30)

Throughout what has been an absolutely dreadful season, including three different quarterbacks starting at least four games, the Washington Redskins finally found a small bright spot by eliminating their division rivals from Philadelphia. In what was a showcase of Washington’s big-play ability, the game begged the question to be asked — where was this all season? The only potential mistake worse than trying to piece together the flaws in their 2014 campaign would be how to accurately evaluate the team going into next year, especially based on their last performance. Is Robert Griffin III actually finishing in Washington, D.C.? Did Week 16’s upset victory over the Eagles change anything? Maybe a few more answers will come when Washington hosts the 11-4 Cowboys to close out the season.

(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

28. Oakland Raiders (LW: 29)

Look who is suddenly gaining a home field advantage. Now with three straight wins — all home games, and they account for all three of the team’s wins all season — the Raiders are on somewhat of a run. While they continue to fall victim to blowouts, they are happening less often, indicating that the team may no longer be a complete disaster. And with some actual wins in recent weeks — especially against teams with winning records like the Bills and Chiefs — Oakland has pulled itself out of the bottom of the barrel. More importantly, the lone bright spot for the team, rookie quarterback Derek Carr, is finally getting to experience what it takes to win in the NFL before heading to the offseason.

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 30)

The unfair part of Thursday night’s matchup between the Titans and Jaguars was that someone had to leave with a win. For what seems like the hundredth straight time, Jacksonville looked underwhelming on the football field and, had it played almost any other team, would have been handed the loss it deserved. Instead, the three-win Jaguars head into the final week of the season looking to match last year’s win total – four.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

30. New York Jets (LW: 27)

If the Jets deserve credit for one thing, it’s that they’ve refused to go quietly into the night in recent weeks. Still awful, and with only one win in their last five attempts, their past four games have all been close. For a team that showed almost no ability to do anything on the field, the fact that they have lost two games to a top-seeded New England team by a combined three points is somewhat remarkable. Then again, these two rivals tend to play close games, so little should be made of the same tight losses that still don’t translate to wins.

(Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

31.Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 28)

Tampa Bay is simply dreadful. Even when the Buccaneers force the top-notch Packers’ offense to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, they simply can’t generate anything on their own end. One of the worst teams across the board, the Buccaneers won’t even have the opportunity to play spoiler in their Week 14 matchup against the Saints. Instead, the only significance of the game is to determine which top-five pick the Buccaneers will secure for next year’s draft.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

32. Tennessee Titans (LW: 32)

That might just seal the deal. With losses to the Jets and Jaguars in consecutive weeks, the Tennessee Titans have virtually guaranteed they will remain at the bottom of the Power Rankings at the season’s conclusion. More importantly for the team, Tennessee now looks like it will also lock up the first overall pick in next year’s draft. At least, the timing of a disastrous year is perfect for the Titans, as one of their glaring weaknesses is the quarterback position. There just so happens to be a potential first overall draftee that could fill that hole.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Finally, we have reached the end.

With nearly every competitor eliminated by the conclusion of Week 16's games, the playoff picture, largely in flux for weeks, has started to take its final shape.

In the NFC, every participant except the winner of the NFC South has been decided. More amazingly, each of the other five teams who have already clinched a playoff berth have a chance at home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

In the AFC, teams like the Bills and Dolphins officially saw their playoff chances vanish, but a remarkable four teams are battling for one final spot. While all but one technically need help from someone else to get into the postseason, the beauty of the matchups is that the team that needs to lose to allow someone else to get into the postseason - Chargers - will be facing one of the teams vying for the final spot - Chiefs.

With nearly everything else in place, the entire portrait of the 2014 season is receiving its finishing touches. Sitting atop the list are the usual suspects from New England, Seattle, and Green Bay, while the bottom is supported by the Titans, Jets, Buccaneers, and Jaguars, relatively typical to past seasons. There are, of course, the surprises, like that of the Cowboys and Lions in the front, with the Saints and 49ers near the back-end.

Regardless, the order in which these teams finish their season is a function of nothing besides the sixteen weeks of football that has brought them to this point.

One final week will solidify it entirely.


Related links:
4 takeaways from the Bengals' Monday night win vs. the Broncos
Boxing - Morilla's Sunday report card - Cuellar demolishes Tamayo and much more
Week 17 fantasy football waiver wire targets
Rajon Rondo could make all the difference for Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavs

For more sports coverage, please visit XNSports.com and follow Mario Mergola on Twitter: @MarioMergola

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