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WEEI.com NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Patriots the team to beat

01.04.11 at 6:41 am ET
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After an unusual season in the NFL, 12 teams remain in the quest to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy. The best of the group remains the Patriots (1). The Vegas oddsmakers agree, Tom Brady and the Pats have the best shot to win it all. The No. 2 seed in the AFC takes the No. 2 spot in the power rankings. The Steelers will roll into the playoffs with a first-round bye and the best defense in the league.

As usual, wild card weekend in the NFL will generate some “must-see” matchups. Football fans will get a chance to see a rematch of the 2009 AFC championship when Rex Ryan and the Jets (10) take on Peyton Manning and the Colts (8). The Jets coach will be out for blood as Manning is 2-0 over Ryan-led defenses in the postseason. We’ll also see two great quarterbacks go head-to-head when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers take on Michael Vick and the Eagles.

Let the postseason begin:

1. 14-2 The road to Dallas will go through Foxboro. You have to like the Patriots’ chances of reaching the Super Bowl if they can continue to win the turnover battle. Their 10 turnovers this year is the fewest in NFL history.

2. 12-4 There’s a saying “defense wins championships” and if that’s the case, the Steelers have a great shot at the organization’s seventh Super Bowl title. The Steelers D allowed the fewest amount of points in the NFL and dominated opposing team’s rushing attacks. The one area that could hurt the Steelers is their offensive line. Despite missing the first four games of the season, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 32 times in the regular season.

3. 13-3 The Falcons enter the postseason in the best position to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC. They have home-field advantage, a quarterback who can win close games, and arguably the most balanced offense in the league. They’ll most likely play the Packers or Saints in the NFC divisional round.

4. 12-4 The Week 1 victory against the Jets paid off big time 17 weeks later. The Ravens will ride their four-game winning streak into Kansas City as opposed to Indianapolis. They are also the only team in the playoffs that can say they beat Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium during the postseason. The other important note to mention is that the rib injury Ed Reed suffered against the Bengals likely won’t hold the safety out against the Chiefs.

5. 11-5 The beat-up Saints will start the postseason on the road in Seattle. Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Jeremy Shockey and Malcolm Jenkins highlight a long list of injured Saints players. Defending their title won’t be easy. They’ll have to do it plagued with injuries and away from the Superdome. New Orleans will need a strong running game to help Drew Brees in the playoffs.

6. 10-6 The Packers’ 47 sacks this year are second only to the Steelers for the league’s most. Green Bay’s defense can get to the quarterback and that is the key to stopping Michael Vick and the Eagles. If Aaron Rodgers can get help from his run game, the Packers can beat anyone in the NFC.

7. 11-5 The Bears’ makeshift offensive line is very shaky. Jay Cutler was sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL ‘€” 52 times. They’ll enjoy a first-round bye but it will be difficult for Cutler and the Bears to be successful in the playoffs against teams like the Packers, Eagles, Saints and Falcons if the offensive line continues to play poorly into the postseason.

8. 10-6 Playoff experience is invaluable and the Colts are entering the postseason for the ninth straight time. As long as Peyton Manning is behind center, Indy has a chance. Once an area of weakness, the run game on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball has improved. In three straight games, the Colts held Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, and Chris Johnson to under 50 yards on the ground.

9. 10-6 Resting his starters in Week 17 was the smartest decision Andy Reid could make. The durability of Michael Vick is definitely in question going into the playoffs. Vick has taken a beating over the last few weeks and the Eagles need to reduce the amount of hits their star quarterback takes with a healthy dose of running back LeSean McCoy. Defensively, the Eagles’ mediocre pass defense will have its work cut out against Aaron Rodgers.

10. 11-5 If the Jets want to reach the Super Bowl, they’ll have to get there without playing at home. This is not necessarily a bad thing for Rex Ryan‘s gang. They went 6-2 on the road this season. However, with the erratic play of Mark Sanchez and the uncertainty of his shoulder, it’s tough to see the Jets beating teams like the Colts, Patriots and Steelers on the road to reach the Super Bowl.

11. 10-6 The young Chiefs have a tough first-round matchup against the Ravens. One thing that will benefit them is playing at home ‘€” they were 7-1 in Kansas City. In order to advance, their great rushing attack will have to perform well against the Ravens’ stingy run defense.

12. 7-9 Seattle at the bottom of the rankings is a no-brainer. The first 7-9 team to make the playoffs will have a tough time containing the Saints offense. The Seahawks defense is one of the worst in the league. Seattle is one of a handful of teams in the NFL that allowed over 400 points this year.

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