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WEEI NFL Power Rankings — Week 16

12.22.09 at 2:49 am ET
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The Colts are well on their way to finishing the regular season undefeated and accomplishing a remarkable feat. Peyton Manning and his Colts move into the No. 1 spot for the first time all year in this week’s WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Indianapolis is at 23 straight regular season wins and counting as it continues to roll straight into the playoffs with a first-round bye.

One new team enters the top 10: America’s Team. The Cowboys found a way to beat the Saints, something that 13 prior opponents were unable to do. The win, most importantly, came in December. If the Cowboys win out, they will secure a playoff spot.

Going into Week 16, there are eight AFC teams that still are mathematically in the wild card race. Baltimore, Denver, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Miami, New York (despite what Rex Ryan says), Tennessee and Houston all are still alive. The best two teams right now, according to the rankings, are the Ravens (No. 11) and the Titans (No. 12). If the season ended today, the Ravens and Broncos would be the two teams that would make the playoffs. The final two weeks are guaranteed to be an eventful and exciting finish to the 2009 NFL regular season.

1. (Last week, 2) 14-0 The Colts will finish off the regular season undefeated after they take down the Jets and Bills over the next two weeks.

New Orleans Saints2. (1) 13-1 OK, now the Saints can focus on winning the Super Bowl rather than going undefeated. The loss to the Cowboys could benefit them in the long run; the Saints still are the elite team in the NFC.

3. (4) 11-3 Nine straight wins for the Chargers have left many wondering if they are ever going to lose another game. Great win for the Chargers against a very strong and talented Bengals team.

4. (5) 10-4 The Eagles — winners of five straight — are the Chargers of the NFC. Philadelphia’s explosive offense will give any defense in the league trouble in the playoffs.

Minnesota Vikings5. (3) 11-3 Two very telling losses in the last three games for the Vikings. The offensive line has to be better if the Vikes want to win playoff games. Brett Favre was sacked four times and hit 10 times in the loss to the Panthers.

Green Bay Packers6. (6) 9-5 The Packers’ lack of a running game hurt them against the Steelers. They had just 37 yards from running back Ryan Grant.

Dallas Cowboys7. (12) 9-5 DeMarcus Ware‘s performance one week after being carted off the field is one for the ages. This is a huge, much-needed December win for the Cowboys that will have them playing with plenty of confidence going forward.

Cincinnati Bengals8. (7) 9-5 It says a lot about the Bengals that they played football at such a high level against a very good team on the road just days after the death of a teammate and friend. Despite the loss to the Chargers, it was a great, valiant effort by the Bengals to come back from down 11 points in the fourth quarter.

New England Patriots 9. (9) 9-5 An important win for the Patriots as they head to the playoffs. Still, there are still a lot of question marks surrounding this team. Can the Pats rush the passer effectively? Can they fix their red zone woes? Will they be able to gain a good flow offensively?

Arizona Cardinals10. (8) 9-5 The Cardinals will be a tough team to defend if they can get contributions from their running backs like the one Beanie Wells turned in on Sunday. It was a great performance by the rookie rusher. Such efforts, coupled with the passing game, could create a balanced attack to give opponents nightmares.

11. (11) 8-6 Great win for the Ravens, who are gaining momentum as they push toward the playoffs. Baltimore will be a tough team to beat come January, and I’m sure no team will want to face the Ravens when it’s time for the first round. They are tied for fourth in the AFC in the giveaways-to-takeaways category.

12. (16) 7-7 It’s tough not to cheer for the Titans, a team that started 0-6 and now has won seven of its last eight. Vince Young has developed into a very reliable and talented QB this season. Before this season, Young was a one-dimensional QB. Now he has proven he can be effective in the pocket. Also, having a running back like Chris Johnson who can rush for over 100 yards game after game doesn’t hurt either.

13. (17) 8-6 The Giants defense finally stepped up and sacked the quarterback five times. The Giants will need the same type of pressure on the QB in order to be successful and make the playoffs. Eli Manning‘s three-touchdown performance also should be encouraging for Giants fans. He now has 26 passing touchdowns, which is a career high.

Jacksonville Jaguars14. (14) 7-7 The Jaguars played very well against the Colts and were in a position to win the game during the final minutes. They were a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone, possessed the ball for over 35 minutes and committed just four penalties. Jacksonville proved it can play with the best teams in the NFL and should be a tough opponent for the Patriots this Sunday.

Denver Broncos15. (10) 8-6 The Broncos have played very inconsistently lately, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Starting running back Knowshon Moreno was only able to average 2.2 yards per carry on 19 attempts against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league.

Pittsburgh Steelers 16. (21) 7-7 If the Steelers can win out and find a way to make it into the playoffs, they will be an extremely difficult team to beat. After losing five straight games and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh never gave up and won the game on a last-second touchdown. Now the momentum has shifted toward the defending champs.

Miami Dolphins17. (13) 7-7 Great job by the Dolphins to come back after being down by 18 points, but the turnovers killed them. Chad Henne‘s three interceptions made it difficult for Miami to win.

18. (18) 7-7 The Falcons are eliminated from playoff contention, but the way they showed up despite having nothing to play for tells us a lot about this team. Atlanta, led by Matt Ryan, will be a solid team again in 2010.

New York Jets19. (15) 7-7 Jets fans shouldn’t get too upset with Rex Ryan. Mathematically, the Jets still have a chance at making the playoffs, but realistically, their season is over.

Houston Texans20. (20) 7-7 The Texans had troubles against a one-win Rams team. Even so, Houston should be happy about the way Matt Schaub has played this season. Schaub turned in his fifth performance with at least 350 yards this season.

San Francisco 49ers21. (19) 6-8 Too many turnovers for this young 49ers team. This team makes too many mistakes to beat good teams in the NFL. Alex Smith, in particular, has been inconsistent and has thrown too many interceptions.

Carolina Panthers22. (25) 6-8 Unforgettable performance by the Panthers defense. Carolina did a great job getting to the passer, and Julius Peppers showed against the Vikings that he still is one of the elite defensive linemen in the game.

Oakland Raiders23. (27) 5-9 Impressive win for the Raiders, who showed up to play despite being out of the playoff picture and having their starting QB on the bench with an injury. Also, JaMarcus Russell‘s performance has to be noted — the young QB showed great resilience leading his team down the field and throwing the game-winning touchdown pass.

Chicago Bears24. (22) 5-9 The Bears have turned over the ball a total of 27 times this season. On Sunday, they turned over the ball six times. This has seemed to be the theme for Lovie Smith’s team all year.

Buffalo Bills25. (23) 5-9 Too many penalties and bad game management cost the Bills the game against the Patriots. The Bills need a tough, experienced coach if they want to improve.

Seattle Seahawks26. (26) 5-9 The Seahawks seem to be playing with no desire to win. The passing game struggled against one of the worst pass defenses in the league.

Washington Redskins27. (24) 4-10 The Redskins didn’t even bother to show up Monday night against their division rival Giants. This was an embarrassing loss for Washington, a team that had played well over the past few weeks. After Monday night, it was obvious that the Redskins are not interested in closing out the season on a high note.

Cleveland Browns28. (29) 3-11 Two straight wins for the Browns, and perhaps more importantly, it looks like Cleveland has found a great rusher in Jerome Harrison. On the other hand, Brady Quinn had another awful performance. It will be interesting to see what the Browns do in the future about Quinn. I’m sure Mike Holmgren has some thoughts on that topic.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers29. (31) 2-12 Great win for the Bucs, who haven’t had anything to play for in a long time. Josh Freeman rebounded nicely on Sunday after having a couple of bad performances.

Kansas City Chiefs30. (28) 3-11 The Chiefs had gone 19 years selling out every game before last Sunday. The empty seats in the stands represent how bad this team is. Kansas City needs to improve in all areas to get back to playing at the level the fans are expecting.

Detroit Lions31. (30) 2-12 The Lions suffered their 12th loss of the season, but they have fought hard all year and have lost some close games against some solid teams.

St. Louis Rams32. (32) 1-13 Rams fans should cross their fingers that they will lose out so they can get that much-coveted first overall draft pick.

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