|WEEI NFL Power Rankings–Week 17||12.29.09 at 2:56 am ET|
After one of the most controversial and exciting weeks in the 2009 regular season, the San Diego “Super” Chargers hold the longest current winning streak in the league and also the top spot in the last regular-season edition of this year’s NFL Power Rankings. The Chargers have been blowing out their opponents week after week and are playing the best all-around football in the NFL.
The Colts drop one spot not merely because of the potential backlash against the decision to throw perfection out the window, but also because San Diego has been annihilating its opponents week after week.
The Packers are the newest team to enter the top five, with the Cowboys, Patriots and Bengals lurking in striking distance. The Vikings fall four spots after suffering their fourth loss of the season Monday night in Chicago. The plummeting Vikings now sit at No. 9.
In the AFC playoff race for the final two wild card spots, seven teams remain alive. The best ranked teams of that bunch are the Steelers (11) and Ravens (12). Baltimore controls its playoff fate, while Pittsburgh needs to win and receive some help to slither into the playoffs.
1. (Last week, 3) 12-3 The hottest team in the NFL. Philip Rivers‘ squad has posted 18 straight wins in December. The Chargers started off the season slow but have rattled off 10 straight wins. No playoff team will want to take on the Super Chargers, who will be playing with loads of confidence (following a first-round bye).
2. (1) 14-1 Shocking to hear Don Shula say on Monday that the Colts made a “wise” decision to take out Peyton Manning. The decision to pull the potential 2010 MVP in the third quarter could be a costly mistake. It will be interesting to see how the players respond to the decision.
3. (2) 13-2 The Saints are playing mediocre football at the wrong time. Giving up a 14-point lead to a two-win team in December is a clear sign that New Orleans is not playing at the high level it has been playing at all year. It’s bad timing to start slumping. However, the Saints can score at will, and once playoff time hits, this team will be the clear favorite to win the NFC. The Vikings’ loss on Monday night gives the Saints home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
4. (4) 11-4 The Viking’s loss gives the Eagles a great chance to get that first-round bye. Philly proved how dynamic its offense is after tearing up one of the best defenses in the NFL. Philadelphia is rolling and will be a tough team to defend once playoff time hits.
5. (6) 10-5 Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are clicking at the right time on offense and defense. Green Bay has won six of its last seven and officially clinched a playoff spot. Now every football fan in America has his/her fingers crossed for a potential Green Bay-Minnesota matchup in the playoffs.
6. (7) 10-5 The difference between the 2010 Cowboys and previous Cowboys teams is that this one has gotten better in December. The defense, especially the pass rush, has stepped up and played great. This team has a legit chance of winning in the first round of the playoffs. The NFC East title is on the line this Sunday against the Eagles.
7. (9) 10-5 The Patriots rushed for close to 200 yards Sunday against the Jaguars. For the first time since Week 4 of the season, Bill Belichick has all five of his running backs healthy. With a consistent and strong running game to go along with Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Randy Moss in the passing game, the Pats can make a lot of noise in the playoffs. They are getting healthy at the right time. The offensive line, which has been beaten up all year, is finally back. Injured players such as Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork will have another week to rest and get healthy for the playoffs because Sunday’s game at Houston means nothing for the Pats.
8. (8) 10-5 Another 100-yard performance from Cedric Benson. The Bengals run game really has helped skyrocket the team to the top of the AFC North and back into the postseason.
9. (5) 11-4 If the Vikings offensive line continues to play poorly, this team won’t go far in the playoffs. The special teams unit also needs to improve greatly. The so-called best running back in the league needs to learn how to protect the football. Adrian Peterson has 20 career fumbles in just three years in the league, with a costly one having been delivered in overtime on Monday night against the Bears. The Vikings can’t afford turnovers if they want to go deep into the playoffs.
10. (10) 10-5 The Cardinals now have won nine of their last 12. Kurt Warner has thrown for close to 4,000 yards this year but more importantly is protecting the football — he’s thrown just three interceptions in his last seven games.
11. (16) 8-7 The Steelers need a lot of help if they want a shot to defend their Super Bowl crown. They will be rooting for Houston, Baltimore and New York to lose. Few expected that the Steelers season would come down to this.
12. (11) 8-7 It’s simple for the Ravens: Win and they’re in. Baltimore will travel to Oakland with its playoff hopes on the line.
13. (15) 8-7 It would be amazing if the Broncos missed the playoffs considering that they started the season 6-0. The Broncos fell 17 points behind the Eagles in the third quarter before they woke up and managed to come storming back, but it wasn’t enough and they should never have allowed themselves to be in that situation. It will be a long offseason for Denver fans, players and coaches if they miss the postseason.
14. (20) 8-7 This Sunday’s game will be the most important game in Texans franchise history. The chance for a winning season and a shot at the playoffs will have the Texans playing with tons of emotion against the Patriots.
15. (19) 8-7 The Jets have no business being in the playoffs, but that’s exactly where they’ll be if they can beat the Bengals on Sunday. They can thank Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian for the bonehead decision to rest Manning and the other Colts starters. The Jets easily are the worst 8-7 AFC team, but they have the best chance to make the playoffs.
16. (18) 8-7 His sophomore year in the NFL wasn’t as good as his rookie year, but Matt Ryan has demonstrated that he can be productive and should bounce back next year with another solid season. The Falcons will go for back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history this Sunday.
17. (17) 7-8 Injuries plagued the Dolphins, but they can take away some positives from the season. Chad Henne played great after starter Chad Pennington went down. The Dolphins should be looking in the ofseason for a receiver who can stretch the field.
18. (12) 7-8 The Titans can go into the offseason knowing that franchise player Vince Young finally is ready to step up and take the role as starting quarterback. Running back Chris Johnson has rushed for more than 100 yards in 10 straight games. The Titans will be back in 2010 competing for a playoff spot in the AFC.
19. (22) 7-8 The Panthers have produced back-to-back wins against the Vikings and the Giants thanks in part to the impressive play of Matt Moore. The Panthers went into the Meadowlands with nothing on the line, while their opponent had everything on the line. Carolina absolutely blew out the Giants.
20. (13) 8-7 The Giants defense was pathetic this year, and Osi Umenyiora summed up the team’s season perfectly, calling it “absolutely nonsense” following the loss to the Panthers on Sunday. Eli Manning and the Giants officially are eliminated from playoff contention after failing to show up in a must-win scenario.
21. (14) 7-8 The Jags were in the driver’s seat for an AFC wild card playoff spot, but three straight losses have put them on the outside looking in. This might be the end of the Jack Del Rio era in Jacksonville.
22. (21) 7-8 The 49ers are filled with some great young talent on both sides of the ball that will continue to improve in the years to come. San Fran has a great shot at finishing the season at .500, something 49ers fans haven’t seen in a long time.
23. (24) 6-9 The Jay Cutler who showed up on Monday night against the Vikings is the quarterback the Bears have been looking for all year. With four touchdown passes and just one interception, Cutler was outstanding and led his team to victory. The Bears came out on Monday night and played like they were in the Super Bowl, and you have to respect that from a team that has struggled all year and was eliminated in Week 14.
24. (23) 5-10 The Raiders have wins this year against the Bengals, Steelers and Broncos, but losses to the Chiefs, Redskins and most recently the Browns. It’s time for Oakland to go in another direction at the quarterback position.
25. (25) 5-10 The Bills have a lot to work to do in the offseason. Running back Marshawn Lynch, who looked like he could be a great back in the league just a couple of years ago, has turned into a total bust. The rushing game gained just 40 yards last Sunday.
26. (26) 5-10 The Seahawks stopped playing a couple of weeks ago. Injuries plagued this team all year, but it also was victimized by stupid mistakes and turnovers. Jim Mora Jr. has a lot of work to do in Seattle.
27. (28) 4-11 Three straight wins for the Browns, but the only thing that has done is lower their 2010 NFL draft choice. Mike Holmgren will blow things up in Cleveland, and coach Eric Mangini should be the first to go.
28. (27) 4-11 Going into the season, Washington’s defense was thought to be much improved with the signing of Albert Haynesworth, but that has turned out to be just the opposite. The Skins have one of the worst defenses in the league. The Redskins need to bring in Mike Shanahan and owner Dan Snyder needs to step back if this team ever wants to be successful.
29. (29) 3-12 Great win for the Bucs, who went into New Orleans and beat a team that has 10 more wins than them. Lots of credit needs to go to Tampa Bay’s defense, which held Drew Brees and the Saints offense to just one touchdown pass and 258 passing yards. There are playoff teams that weren’t able to do that this season.
30. (30) 3-12 The Chiefs can take one positive out of this season and that is running back Jamaal Charles. He’s had three straight 100-yard rushing games and has proven he can handle the bulk of the carries.
31. (31) 2-13 A two-win season is reason for celebration in Detroit. The team showed it is improving this year. A healthy Matthew Stafford next year and another solid draft choice should put the Lions in a great position to continue to improve.
32. (32) 1-14 The Rams have a tough decision to make when the NFL draft hits because they need a lot of help on both sides of the football. The Rams rank last in the league in points scored and 31st in the league in points allowed.
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