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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 17

12.29.10 at 8:17 am ET
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The regular season is wrapping up, and for the first time this year, the Patriots are alone with the best record in the NFL. Tom Brady and his mistake-free Patriots are riding a seven-game winning streak and reside in the No. 1 spot in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings for the seventh straight week.

The Ravens fly north to the No. 2 spot which was previously occupied by the Falcons (5). The Saints (3) come marching into the top five after a Monday night win in Atlanta. Joining them among the league’s elite are the Steelers (4). They’ll need a win against the Browns to clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye.

Week 17 promises to be exciting, with many of the games having playoff implications. The Packers (8) will play the Bears (6) for a chance to secure the final wild card spot in the NFC. Meanwhile, the Giants (12) will play the Redskins (25) and hope the Packers lose for their opportunity to reach the playoffs. The Sunday night game features the Rams (17) and Seahawks (26) fighting for the NFC West crown.

1. (1) 13-2 Home-field advantage is officially secured throughout the playoffs for the Patriots ‘€” giving them two weeks off from playing a meaningful game. The Pats will have the luxury of resting their starters Sunday if Bill Belichick chooses to do so. A well-rested, Belichick-coached, Brady-led Patriots team is a scary thing for any opponent that has to go into New England during the playoffs.

2. (4) 11-4 The Ravens are a Super Bowl contender for sure. They have veteran leadership on defense, have a great run game, and will go into the playoffs knowing they are the only team to beat a Brady-led Patriots team at Gillette Stadium during the postseason.

3. (7) 11-4 The defending Super Bowl champs will cruise into the playoffs with lots of momentum. The Saints have won seven of their last eight games and managed to give Matt Ryan just his second loss at home in three years. Drew Brees will have to protect the football better in the playoffs if the Saints want to have a real shot at reaching Dallas. Last year the veteran quarterback threw just 11 interceptions; he already has 21 in 2010.

4. (6) 11-4 The Steelers can clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win against the Browns on Sunday. Don’t forget, Pittsburgh lost to Cleveland last year in December, preventing the Steelers from making the playoffs. You can be sure the Browns will be looking to beat their division rival again and knock them down a few seeds in the playoffs.

5. (2) 12-3 The NFC South title and the No. 1 seed in the conference can be wrapped up with a victory against the two-win Panthers on Sunday. The Falcons need to bounce back from their tough loss to the Saints. The reason why the Falcons have been so successful this year is because they protect the football and have a balanced offense. In Monday night’s loss they made a key turnover and had a lack of production from the run game.

6. (8) 11-4 There must have been much celebration in Chicago when the unthinkable happened Tuesday night: the Vikings upset the Eagles. Philadelphia’s loss gives the Bears a first-round bye.

7. (3) 10-5 The Eagles blew a great opportunity to get a first-round bye. Now, Andy Reid‘s club will have to settle for  the No. 3 seed. Once again, we saw Michael Vick struggle with the blitz and take a beating from an opposing defense. With nothing to play for on Sunday, Reid should rest his starters and give Vick some time to rest up. Either way, Vick has to protect the football a lot better or the Eagles’ time in the playoffs will be short-lived.

8. (13) 9-6 The Packers turned in their most complete game of the year when they needed it most. With playoff implications on the line, Aaron Rodgers threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns while the defense, led by Clay Matthews, caused six turnovers. Green Bay has another tough task ahead against the Bears. A win clinches a wild card berth.

9. (5) 10-5 The team many thought destined to reach the Super Bowl backed into the playoffs on Sunday. The Jets defense has allowed 110 points over the last four games. Questionable coaching calls and bad decisions with the football have haunted the Jets in December. If this team wants to make some noise in the playoffs, they need Mark Sanchez healthy and protecting the football. They also need to go back to playing Rex Ryan-type defense.

10. (11) 9-6 Over the last two weeks, Indy’s defense has played and dominated two of the best running backs in the league: Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden. For most of the season, the Colts run defense was abysmal. This is a nice trend for Colts fans as the team prepares for another playoff run.

11. (12) 10-5 At the start of the season, did anyone predict the Chiefs would be the last team standing in the AFC West? This young team does many things well, but most importantly it protects the football and they win at home. The Chiefs have just 12 turnovers all year (second best in the NFL) and are 7-0 at Arrowhead Stadium.

12. (10) 9-6 The Giants are unraveling at the worst possible time. In back-to-back weeks, the G-Men have lost key games against playoff-caliber opponents. This team has been plagued all year by turnovers and that continued on Sunday when New York gave the ball away six times. Eli Manning tossed four interceptions and Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled for the seventh time this year. The Giants simply turn the ball over far too much to be considered a serious playoff threat.

13. (9) 8-7 For the first time in four years, San Diego will not be the AFC West champion. The Chargers have been one of the most underachieving teams in the NFL over the last five years ‘€” they have a 3-4 record in the playoffs, one conference championship appearance and no Super Bowl appearances. It’s puzzling that owner Dean Spanos has already declared that Norv Turner will return to coach this team in 2011.

14. (17) 9-6 Although it will be difficult for the Buccaneers to reach the playoffs, they have a bright future with 22-year-old Josh Freeman. The second-year QB has progressed brilliantly since his rookie season. Here’s a look at Freeman’s numbers:
2009: 10 TD, 18 INT, 59.8 QB rating
2010: 23 TD, 6 INT, 93.6 QB rating

15. (14) 8-7 The Jaguars are clinging to their playoff hopes. It was just a few weeks ago when the Jaguars had won five of six games and held their playoff destiny in their hands. However, turnovers and injuries have plagued Jack Del Rio‘s team over the last two weeks. Jacksonville needs a win in Houston and a Colts loss to the Titans in order to win the AFC South.

16. (15) 7-8 The Raiders won’t make the playoffs but can go into next year building on some of the good things they were able to do this year. Darren McFadden and the Raiders rushing attack has been one of the best in the league this season. This team also has a chance to sweep the AFC West. The Raiders will take their 5-0 divisional record into Kansas City on Sunday.

17. (21) 7-8 Win and they’re in. The Rams will play the Seahawks on Sunday for a chance at playing in the postseason. You have to like the Rams’ chances of making the playoffs with the way first-overall pick Sam Bradford has been performing. The QB broke the NFL rookie record for completions while leading his team to a victory over the 49ers this past Sunday.

18. (16) 7-8 Seven of the Dolphins’ eight losses have come at home. Why Miami struggles at home is baffling, but it’s something coach Tony Sparano needs to figure out. Chad Henne has been very disappointing this season. In his first full season as starting quarterback, Henne has thrown 18 interceptions.

19. (22) 6-9 It’s amazing how much Joe Webb improved in just one week. Webb gave Vikes fans hope for the future. The Vikings’ upset win over the Eagles could make the team seriously consider giving Leslie Frazier the permanent job. He certainly has made a strong case.

20. (18) 5-10 The Cowboys will wrap up a disappointing season against the Eagles on Sunday. What Jerry Jones will do in the offseason is an intriguing question. Jason Garrett has done a great job since taking over for Wade Phillips ‘€” the Cowboys are 4-3 since the switch. Jones needs to take a step back from the player-personnel decisions in order for Dallas to be successful.

21. (20) 5-10 No playoff appearances and the lack of success during Gary Kubiak‘s tenure as head coach has Texans fans rallying to force ownership to make a change. The Texans go into the “Most disappointing teams of 2010″ category.

22. (28) 5-10 The Lions have won three straight games for the first time in three years. Lions fans have to be excited for the future of this team. Rookie Ndamukong Suh and 25-year-old Calvin Johnson were selected to start in the Pro Bowl ‘€” perhaps a sign that the Lions finally are headed in the right direction.

23. (19) 6-9 The Titans are playing uninspired football. Nine penalties, two turnovers and just one rushing first down are the latest dreadful stats this team put up. Tennessee has an opportunity to prevent the Colts from making the playoffs Sunday, but nothing the Titans have done since October suggests they will show up.

24. (23) 5-10 The Browns are ending their season on a down note. Their 2010 campaign has been highlighted with wins against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints and the first-place Patriots, but they have lost three straight games in December. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for coach Eric Mangini.

25. (27) 6-9 With the season wrapping up, the Redskins have to reflect on what Mike Shanahan has done in his first year as coach. Some have suggested that he has lost a lot of respect in the locker room with his players. If that’s the case, could firing Shanahan after one year be out of the question?

26. (25) 6-9 The Seahawks are one win away from becoming the first-ever 7-9 team to reach the NFL playoffs. This team certainly isn’t worthy of a playoff berth. Seattle has lost nine games by 15 or more points this year.

27. (24) 5-10 The 49ers became the fourth team this year to fire their coach during the regular season. This was the right move to make, especially after Mike Singletary‘s tirade on the sidelines. This offseason, the Niners’ top priorities should be finding the right coach to lead this team and ending the Alex Smith experiment.

28. (30) 4-11 The Bengals have won two straight games and knocked the Chargers out of playoff contention. This comes after they went through the longest losing streak in the NFL ‘€” 10 games. Cincy currently holds the No. 3 pick in the draft.

29. (29) 5-10 The 2009 NFC West champs will play the 49ers to close out the season in a desperate attempt to not finish the year in last place in the worst division of football. This team has an endless amount of areas to fix as it heads into the offseason.

30. (26) 4-11 Seven turnovers in one game jolts off the stat sheet in the Bills’ loss to the Patriots on Sunday. Ryan Fitzpatrick was responsible for five of them. The Bills will have a big decision to make come draft time whether they want to stick with Fitzpatrick or go in a different direction. The Harvard grad has shown some promise at times this season.

31. (31) 4-11 Yes, rookie Tim Tebow has played well over the last two games for the Broncos, but they already have a solid quarterback in Kyle Orton. This brings us back to the question: Why did they draft Tebow? The Broncos are horrible defensively. They’re ranked toward the bottom of the league in both pass and rush defense. On top of that, they give up more points than any other team in the league. The front office needs to concentrate on defense in the offseason.

32. (32) 2-13 Do you congratulate a team for solidifying the No. 1 spot in the 2011 draft? If so, congratulations to the  Panthers. Now they must hope Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck enters the draft.

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