|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Niners, Broncos pull ahead of Patriots||12.18.12 at 10:42 am ET|
For the second straight week, the No. 1 team has been dethroned in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. After falling to the Niners at home, the Patriots drop to No. 3 while San Francisco leaps to the top of the class. Nine straight wins has propelled the Broncos all the way to the No. 2 spot, and the red-hot Seahawks fly jump to No. 7.
The Giants (8), Ravens (9) and Steelers (15) all plummet as those three teams are a combined 2-7 in the month of December. With just two games to go, many teams are fighting for their playoff lives. The NFC race will be fascinating as six teams — Giants, Redskins (10), Bears (11) Cowboys (12), Seahawks and Vikings (16) — fight for three remaining spots.
As usual, the Jaguars (32), Chiefs (31), Raiders (30) and Eagles (29) remain the bottom feeders of the NFL.
1. (2) 49ers (10-3-1) — Yes, the Niners blew a 28-point lead, but they also went into Gillette Stadium and beat the red-hot Patriots in December. It was very impressive that they were able to keep their composure after losing the lead. In the end, the best defense in the league beat the best offense.
2. (3) Broncos (11-3) — With games against two of the worst teams in the league remaining, the Broncos should wrap up the regular season and go into the playoffs with a first-round bye and 11 consecutive wins.
3. (1) Patriots (10-4) — The road to the Super Bowl got a little tougher, but the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. No team in the AFC will want to play New England once the playoffs begin. Putting up 31 points in a half against the best defense in the league without Rob Gronkowski is pretty impressive.
4. (4) Texans (12-2) — The number of big plays the Houston defense has allowed over the past few weeks has to be concerning to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The Texans have given up a 30-plus, an 80-plus, and three 60-plus-yard touchdown passes in their last five games.
5. (5) Falcons (12-2) — As the playoffs draw near, the Falcons made their best case on Sunday for why teams should be afraid to play them this postseason. This is a mentally tough, resilient and well-rounded football team.
6. (6) Packers (10-4) — Packers fans are optimistic their team will make another deep postseason run. Green Bay has won eight of its last nine, has wrapped up the NFC North, and is getting healthy at the right time.
7. (9) Seahawks (9-5) — Since November, the Seahawks have scored 210 points and are averaging 35 points per game. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch have developed into one of the best quarterback-running back tandems in the league.
8. (7) Giants (8-6) — The inconsistent play at the end of the regular season has to catch up to them eventually, right? It’s hard to count the Giants out after what they did in ’07 and ’11, but they have put themselves in a very dangerous position with just two games to go.
9. (8) Ravens (9-5) — The Ravens need to find a way to stop the negative momentum that has built up in December. The best way to do that is for Joe Flacco to focus on protecting the football. Flacco has turned the ball over six times this month with three interceptions and three fumbles.
10. (13) Redskins (8-6) — It’s amazing how this team has gone from out of playoff contention to first place in the NFC East. The Redskins control their destiny — two more wins and they can call themselves division champs for the first time since 1999.
11. (10) Bears (8-6) — What good is Jay Cutler if he can’t beat the Packers? The Bears QB is 1-6 against Green Bay since joining the NFC North. It’s hard to imagine that a team that started the season 7-1 could miss the playoffs. Chicago controlled the division for most of the season but lost both of its games to Green Bay this year.
12. (14) Cowboys (8-6) — Dallas has won five of its last six and continues to keep its season alive. The Cowboys have had to endure a plethora of injuries, but what’s even more impressive is the way they have found a way to win late in games. Their last four victories have been decided in the fourth quarter or overtime.
13. (11) Colts (9-5) — Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, the Colts should be extremely satisfied with the way they’ve improved this season. Indy already has accomplished the unthinkable by reaching the postseason.
14. (15) Bengals (8-6) — The Bengals have a great opportunity to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981 and ’82. Getting their offense back on track is key, and that starts with better protection on the offensive line. Andy Dalton has been sacked 38 times this year, and 12 have those sacks have come in the month of December.
15. (12) Steelers (7-7) — Turnover ratio is a very telling statistic, and the Steelers are a minus-14. There are only three other teams in the league that are worse. It’s also never a good sign when the veteran quarterback is calling out the offensive coordinator.
16. (16) Vikings (8-6) — Adrian Peterson has kept the Vikings in contention for a playoff spot all by himself. Regardless what happens this year, fans can feel good about how this team has progressed. Christian Ponder has a few wide receivers at the top of his offseason Christmas wish list. An upgrade at receiver to go along with Percy Harvin would do wonders for this offense.
17. (18) Saints (6-8) — The playoffs are out of reach and surely the Saints organization is looking forward to turning the page from the 2012 season. The most important thing this team can do now is lock up Sean Payton to a contract. His importance to the success of the Saints was shown in his absence.
18. (17) Buccaneers (6-8) — Greg Schiano has to be careful his team doesn’t mess up all the positives the Bucs had going for them at the start of the season. Josh Freeman has taken a step back in December after showing major improvement. He’s thrown five interceptions and has a sub-50.0 completion percentage, and the team is 0-3.
19. (19) Rams (6-7-1) — Franchise quarterback Sam Bradford won’t be the franchise QB for long if the Rams don’t prioritize upgrading the offensive line during the offseason. Bradford has been sacked 105 times since entering the league in 2010. He’s already been sacked 35 times this season.
20. (20) Dolphins (6-8) — Ryan Tannehill has had a very encouraging season so far in Miami. The rookie showed off his scrambling ability in Sunday’s win over the Jags. The Dolphins QB has a bright future in the NFL.
21. (24) Titans (5-9) — With his team trailing the Jets in the third quarter, Jake Locker led a great drive down the field to retake the lead. That’s exactly the type of thing Titans fans want to see the young Locker doing as the season draws to a close.
22. (27) Panthers (5-9) — Cam Newton‘s sophomore season didn’t start the way he would have liked, but the young QB has turned it around in his last five games. He’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in that span. The Panthers don’t have much to play for beside ending their season on a positive note.
23. (21) Jets (6-8) — I can’t think of a more fitting way to sum up the Jets season other than the way they lost Monday night. Three fourth-quarter turnovers, two of them in the final two minutes of the game. The 2012 Jets season has been a total disaster, marred by a lack of leadership in the locker room and bad quarterback play.
25. (25) Chargers (5-9) — After watching Sunday’s game against the Panthers, it looked like the Chargers have officially given up on the 2012 season. A 24-point loss at home against a last-place team is absolutely pathetic.
26. (26) Browns (5-9) — Pat Shurmur‘s time in Cleveland likely is coming to an end. The team has just nine wins in his two seasons as coach.
27. (29) Cardinals (5-9) — The Cardinals are a quarterback away from being competitive in this league. At the most important position, they are below average at best. Alex Smith, Michael Vick and Matt Flynn are possible solutions that would dramatically make the Cards a better team.
28. (22) Lions (4-10) — The Lions need a change of philosophy in that locker room, and the best way to do that is to fire Jim Schwartz. This team lacks discipline, makes too many mental mistakes and is far too talented than what its record indicates.
29. (28) Eagles (4-10) — Andy Reid‘s Eagles fell to 12-18 since the start of 2011. They’ve been a sorry excuse for a football team for the majority of the year.
30. (31) Raiders (4-10) — A commitment to excellence? The Raiders haven’t finished with a winning record in 10 straight seasons.
31. (30) Chiefs (2-12) — If the Chiefs can take any solace from their dismal season they can look at the Colts, who they’ll be playing this Sunday. They’ll be hoping for that No. 1 pick and praying that Geno Smith or Matt Barkley can turn the franchise around.
32. (32) Jaguars (2-12) — The Jaguars have been so bad this season they don’t deserve to be on the same field as the Patriots this Sunday. However, be prepared to hear Bill Belichick and the Patriots players talk about how talented they are.
Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.
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