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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 16

12.21.10 at 6:48 am ET

The top two teams in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings are on the verge of clinching the No. 1 seed in their respective conference. The Patriots (1) and Falcons (2) are cruising through the regular season and are poising themselves for a playoff run. The Falcons will collide with their division rival New Orleans Saints (7) on Monday Night Football in Week 16.

Moving on up are the Eagles (3), the Ravens (4), and the Jets (5). All three of those teams were victorious against playoff caliber opponents over the weekend. Meanwhile, the G-Men fall to No. 10 after their giant collapse against the Eagles at home.

A playoff spot is on the line in the NFC West and no team in that division ranks higher than No. 21 in the rankings. The Rams (21), 49ers (24), and Seahawks (25) will battle it out over the next two weeks for the NFC West crown. It is impossible for any of those teams to have a record over .500.

1. (1) 12-2 It wasn’t the prettiest victory but every year people say “Super Bowl caliber teams find ways to win games.” The most important quality about this team is that they continue to protect the football. The Patriots have nine total turnovers and a quarterback that hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 6. The three-time Super Bowl champs are one win away from locking up the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

2. (2) 12-2 Matt Ryan and the Falcons have won eight straight games and continue to play well in all areas of the game. They are extremely balanced on offense and do a great job creating turnovers on defense. The Falcons are one win away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

3. (5) 10-4 It doesn’t matter what the other team did to choke the game away, the Eagles came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter and found a way to win the game. This win will certainly be a momentum booster as Mike Vick and the Eagles soar into the playoffs . I think it’s safe to say that no team in the NFC will want to face them in the playoffs.

4. (6) 10-4 Ray Rice proved that the Ravens offensive game plan should go through him. The third-year running back had 153 yards on the ground and 80 yards receiving. The Ravens will certainly have to rely on Rice going forward into the playoffs. After a mediocre performance last week on defense, they were able to get solid pressure on Drew Brees and force a key interception late in the fourth-quarter.

5. (8) 10-4 Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense returned against one of the best defenses in the game. The Jets scored their first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters. What was also impressive was the way the Jets defense stepped up during the closing seconds of the game and stopped the Steelers from scoring a touchdown. This was a quality win on the road from the Jets.

6. (3) 10-4 The Steelers D needs Troy Polamalu on the field to be be the dominating defense we’re all accustomed to seeing. The defensive unit looks completely different without No. 43 patrolling the secondary.  Luckily for the Steelers, they can afford to let Polamalu rest up for the playoffs if they choose to do so. Their final two games are against two last place teams, the Panthers and the Browns.

7. (4) 10-4 Defending the Vince Lombardi trophy will certainly be a lot harder now that the division seems almost impossible for the Saints to win. The Saints will most likely have to play on the road during the playoffs.

8. (10) 10-4 The NFC North champions now turn their focus on getting the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. If the Bears win their remaining two games against the Jets and Packers, they will have that opportunity.

9. (9) 8-6 The Chargers are rolling– they’ve won six of their last seven games. The pass rush has stepped up in a huge way. In their latest win, the Chargers D sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith six times.

10. (7) 9-5 Giants players and coaches need to put their heartbreaking loss behind them or they might not even make the playoffs. The Giants have an extremely big game against the Packers this Sunday and playoff implications are on the line. Defensively, they’ve played well against Michael Vick and need to use the potential of getting another shot at the Eagles in the playoffs as motivation.

11. (13) 8-6 The Colts regained possession of the AFC South with their win over the Jags. They ran the ball well and stopped the run on defense– something that haven’t been able to do all year. They’ll close the season with games against the Raiders and Titans. If they win both, they’ll be AFC South champions once again.

12. (14) 9-5 The Chiefs control their own destiny. If they win their remaining two games against the Titans and Raiders; they will take the AFC West for the first time since 2003.

13. (11) 8-6 It looks like the Packers will be in a dogfight for that final NFC wildcard playoff spot. Their season is on the line next week against the Giants. Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday that he will know more about the status of Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday.

14. (12) 8-6 Costly penalties, turnovers, and an inability to convert on third-down are the reason the Jags lost control of the AFC South. They will need some help down the stretch for an opportunity to reach the playoffs.

15. (17) 7-7 If the Raiders can find a quarterback to complement Darren McFadden, their offense has the potential of doing some damage. McFadden has rushed for over 100 yards six times this season. He’s also extremely dangerous catching the ball in the backfield.

16. (15) 7-7 Many teams win at home and lose on the road, not the Miami Dolphins. The “Fins” are now 1-6 at Sun-Life Stadium. Before the season started, owner Stephen Ross predicted his team would reach the Super Bowl. The loss to the Bills on Sunday officially eliminated them from the playoffs.


17. (16) 8-6 The Bucs loss to the Lions puts their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. The injury plagued Bucs could be eliminated from playoff contention as early as this week if both the Saints and Giants win.

18. (21) 5-9 The debate is on in Dallas whether Jerry Jones should retain Jason Garrett as head coach. The defense should be the main area of concern for whoever is coaching the Cowboys next year. The Cowboys D gave up 16-third quarter points and allowed Rex Grossman to throw for over 300 yards.

19. (23) 6-8 The best medicine for a team struggling on offense is a game against the Texans defense. The Titans scored four offensive touchdowns and snapped their six-game losing streak.

20. (18) 5-9 Change is on the horizon in Houston. It will probably start with Gary Kubiak who hasn’t been able to take his team to the playoffs during his five year tenure as coach. The Texans have lost seven of their last eight games.

21. (20) 6-8 The offensive line is having a difficult time protecting Sam Bradford. The Rams will play with the 49ers Sunday in one of the biggest games the franchise has had in a long time. A win keeps them alive in the NFC West race and eliminates San Francisco.

22. (22) 5-9 The Vikings played the majority of Monday night’s game with no energy. They turned the ball over, played extremely poor on special teams, and put forth a lackluster effort on defense. It’s difficult to say, but at this current moment in the season, Brett Favre gives the Vikings the best chance to win.

23. (19) 5-9 The Browns fell victim to the lowly Bengals. However, the silver lining they can take from the loss was the play of Colt McCoy. The rookie is showing he can be the future of the franchise. He completed 19 of 25 passes and threw for over 240 yards with two touchdowns.

24. (24) 5-9 Although impossible to finish .500, the 49ers can make the playoffs if they win their remaining two games. They will play the Rams next and then take on the Cardinals to close the season.

25. (26) 6-8 Matt Hasselbeck is beginning to hurt the Seahawks rather than help them. The veteran QB has thrown ten interceptions in the past four games. He turned the ball over three times in the third quarter against the Falcons giving his team little hope in winning the game.

26. (27) 4-10 Since starting the season 0-8, the Bills are 4-2. The Bills play hard every week no matter who their opponent is and that won’t change Sunday against the 12-2 Patriots. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a pleasant surprise for Bills fans since he was given the starting role. The Harvard grad is closing in on 3,000 yards passing.

27. (25) 5-9 It’s surprising that a Mike Shanahan led team has such a lousy rushing attack. In Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, they rushed for 60 or fewer yards for the fourth time this season. Donovan McNabb historically always had a good ground game in Philadelphia. The lack of production in the run game could be one of the reasons McNabb has played mediocre this year.

28. (28) 4-10 The Lions beat the Bucs on Sunday and ended their embarrassing streak of 26 straight road losses. Calvin Johnson is on pace to have a career year in receptions and touchdowns.

29. (29) 4-10 The Cardinals offense has gone from one of the best in the league to one of the worst in the span of a year. Expectations for Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells were high going into this season but they have been nothing more than disappointing.

30. (31) 3-11 The ten game losing streak–snapped. The Bengals won a game for the first time since September. Cedric Benson rushed for 150-yards on 31 carries. Benson finishing with over 100-yards is a rarity this year but something we saw last year on a regular basis. Perhaps that is one of the main reasons the Bengals have just three wins in 2010.

31. (30) 3-11 The Broncos will rely on Tim Tebow the rest of the way to snap their current five-game losing streak.  That might be an impossible task for the rookie to complete if the Broncos defense continues to give up a high number of points. They rank last in the NFL in points allowed with 415.

32. (32) 2-12 The Panthers are clinging on to that No. 1 spot on the 2011 draft board. There are many areas on this team that need improvement. It will be interesting to see if they decide to stick with Jimmy Clausen or go in another direction. Either way, it’s safe to assume changes are ahead.

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