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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, playoff edition: Patriots enter at No. 5 01.02.14 at 10:55 am ET
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Fittingly, the Seahawks end the regular season where they spent most of it, at the top of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Pete Carroll-led Hawks have ensured that they’ll be playing any and all NFC playoff games in Seattle, a place where they’ve lost just once over the last two years.

The Niners cling to the No. 2 seed as they prepare to take on a Packers team they’ve been successful against in their prior two meetings. The Panthers (3), Broncos (4) and Patriots (5) round out the top five playoff teams.

As wild card weekend approaches, keep in mind that the last three Super Bowl champions played in the first round of the playoffs. If history has taught us anything, any team that has reached the postseason has a shot at the title. We’re in for another exciting year of postseason football. Let the games begin.

1. (1) Seahawks (13-3) — If defense wins championships, the Seahawks have the best shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. The Seahawks finished the regular season at the top of many defensive categories, including points allowed, passing yards and takeaways.

 2. (2) 49ers (12-4) — A tough road lies ahead for the Niners, who look to return to the Super Bowl. They’ll most likely have to travel to Green Bay, Carolina and Seattle to get to where they want to go.

3. (3) Panthers (12-4) — Carolina brings one of the league’s best defenses into the playoffs. The Panthers’ ferocious D sacked opposing QBs a league-high 60 times.

 4. (4) Broncos (13-3) — The precision and methodical offensive attack Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense deliver makes them the favorite in the AFC. Denver set an NFL record with 606 points scored, averaging almost 40 points per game.

 5. (5) Patriots (12-4) — The Patriots are the experienced veteran team in the AFC that no one wants to play. With the number of key injuries this team has suffered, Bill Belichick deserves to be named Coach of the Year.

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Read More: Bengals, Bill Belichick, Broncos, Drew Brees
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 17: Seahawks still No. 1 despite loss 12.24.13 at 8:48 am ET
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The Seahawks stumbled but didn’t fall in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Despite suffering a setback in Week 16, Seattle stands pat because of its overall dominance. The 49ers, Panthers, Broncos and Patriots, who all have secured playoff spots, round out the top five.

As we head into the last week of the season, division titles and playoff spots still are up for grabs. Four teams are fighting for one spot in the AFC: the Chargers (11), Ravens (13), Dolphins (15) and Steelers (17). The NFC is wide open, with three divisions and a wild card spot on the line. The Eagles (12) will look to become the 11th consecutive team in the NFL to finish in last place and then go on to win the division the very next year, and it will take a win over the Cowboys (19) on Sunday to accomplish that feat. Philadelphia’s odds of winning the NFC East improved dramatically on Monday after it was reported that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will be sidelined due to a back problem.

The conclusion of the 2013 regular season promises to be a wild one. Be sure to check in next week after all is decided for the playoff edition of the Power Rankings.

1. (1) Seahawks (12-3) – The NFC took notice that the Seahawks are vulnerable in Seattle. They lost at home for the first time in two years. Penalties and a struggling passing attack hurt Pete Carroll‘s team Sunday. 

 2. (2) 49ers (11-4) — They’ve clinched and now have won five straight. The Niners are the type of seasoned, well-balanced team that is capable of going into Seattle and winning if the situation were to arise.

3. (3) Panthers (11-4) — The Panthers have the tools to reach the Super Bowl. Cam Newton has proven this year that the big moment doesn’t negatively affect him. Carolina’s defense forces turnovers, rushes the passer well and allows the fewest points per game in the league.

 4. (4) Broncos (11-3) — Much is being made about the loss of Von Miller, but the Broncos won their first six games this season when the Pro Bowl linebacker was suspended. If Denver doesn’t reach the Super Bowl, it won’t be because Miller is out.

5. (6) Patriots (11-4) — You can’t count this team out as long as Tom Brady is behind center and Bill Belichick is on the sideline. They’ve proven that this year more than ever.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bills, Chris Johnson, NFL Power Rankings
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Patriots fall to No. 6, third in AFC 12.17.13 at 12:46 pm ET
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As the regular season nears its conclusion, the NFL continues to be unpredictable. Opportunities to gain ground in the conference, clinch divisions and secure playoff spots were present in Week 15, but the Broncos (4), Patriots (6), Saints (7), Bengals (9), Eagles (16), Lions (18) and Cowboys (20) squandered those chances.

One thing of which we can be certain is that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through the 12th man in Seattle. One more win clinches home-field advantage for the No. 1 ranked Seahawks. The Niners (2) and Panthers (3) are right behind in a top-heavy NFC.

Meanwhile, the AFC has never been this wide open. The Broncos and Patriots both fall two spots after disappointing losses, while the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens move all the way up to the No. 5 spot.

As we head into the final two weeks there still is much to be decided across the league. Which teams will lock up first-round byes? Can the Patriots actually miss the playoffs? An exciting conclusion to the season is upon us.

1. (1) Seahawks (12-2) – Injuries and suspensions to starters can’t even slow down this Seahawks defense. Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, K.J. Wright and Tony McDaniel all were out of commission on Sunday, but Seattle’s D still was able to force five turnovers and get a shutout win over the Giants.

2. (5) 49ers (10-4) — The Niners are heating up at just the right time. San Fran has won four straight and is second only to Seattle in point differential in the NFC at plus-121.

3. (6) Panthers (10-4) — Cam Newton and the Panthers control their own destiny in the NFC South. If they win their final two games, the Panthers will be division champs for the first time since 2008 and will enjoy a first-round bye.

 4. (2) Broncos (11-3) — The Broncos are allowing an average of 29 points in their last four games. This team has looked vulnerable of late but still has a firm grip on the No. 1 seed in the AFC with the Texans and Raiders left on the schedule.

5. (14) Ravens (8-6) — The Ravens have just as good a shot to reach the Super Bowl as the Broncos and Patriots.

6. (4) Patriots (10-4) — It’s difficult to win in this league if your offense can’t convert in the red zone. The Patriots go from one of the best teams in the red zone to one of the worst without Rob Gronkowski. If Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can lead this team to the Super Bowl it will go down as one of the tandem’s best accomplishments of their career.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Eli Manning, NFL Power Rankings, Tom Brady
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 14: Patriots jump to No. 3 12.03.13 at 10:44 am ET
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The dominance continues. Seattle’s reign atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings has reached its seventh straight week. The Seahawks look like a lock to play in New Jersey in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Panthers (2), Patriots (3) and Broncos (4) all inch one spot closer while the Saints drop out of the top five after being absolutely dismantled in Seattle. New Orleans won’t have much time to think about the loss because the red-hot Panthers are next on the schedule in a battle for the NFC South.

As the regular season draws closer to an end, we’ll see more teams officially eliminated from the playoffs. It looks like at least five playoff teams from 2012 won’t make a return trip in 2013. The Packers (20), Vikings (27), Redskins (28, already eliminated) Falcons (29) and Texans (32) have not lived up to expectations.

1. (1) Seahawks (11-1) – Good luck to any NFC team that has to go through Seattle to reach the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson hasn’t lost at CenturyLink Field and is 22-6 since becoming the starting QB last year.

2. (3) Panthers (9-3) — Owners of eight straight wins, the Panthers and their highly ranked defense will take on the Saints on Sunday night.

3. (4) Patriots (9-3) — As usual, the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady-led Patriots get stronger and better as the season shifts to November and December. They are one win and one Miami loss away from wrapping up their 11th division title in 13 seasons.

4. (5) Broncos (10-2) — The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through Denver. The Broncos’ remaining opponents have a combined 16-32 record. None of the four teams they will face have a record over .500. 

5. (6) 49ers (8-4) — The injuries on the offensive line combined with the inconsistency of the run game over the past two weeks are a concern heading into Sunday’s game against the Seahawks.

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Read More: Broncos, NFL Power Rankings, Patriots, Peyton Manning
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 13: Patriots top dogs in AFC 11.26.13 at 12:36 pm ET
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The Patriots are the new power team in the AFC as they have surpassed the Broncos for the first time this year in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Sunday night’s stunning comeback was good enough to catapult New England from seventh to fourth and drop Denver from second to fifth.

In the NFC, the scene is set for the two top teams to clash on Monday night. The Seahawks have enjoyed the top spot for quite some time, but the Saints, up a spot this week to No. 2, are a real threat with their prolific offense. Monday night’s outcome may not only determine who gets home-field advantage in the playoffs, but ultimately who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl.

At the bottom of the barrel, the Jaguars finally clawed their way out of the most miserable position. The good news for the Texans, our new bottom-feeder, is that they can only go up from here. Houston has plunged week after week after starting the season at No. 7.

1. (1) Seahawks (10-1) — Seattle should be solely focusing on its NFC clash with the Saints, but news that cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner are facing suspensions has changed that plan.

2. (3) Saints (9-2) — The most important game of the year for the Saints is Monday in Seattle. New Orleans wants to play in the comfort of its dome in the postseason. Winning two games in Seattle in the same year doesn’t seem likely.

3. (4) Panthers (8-3) — We’ve seen many qualities of a Super Bowl-caliber team during the Panthers’ current seven game win streak. The ability to close out tight games is a trait we see year after year from Super Bowl champions during the regular season.

4. (7) Patriots (8-3) — No franchise executes the “next man up” philosophy better than New England. Whether it’s Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Aaron Hernandez or Wes Welker, the Patriots continue to find a way to win more than they lose.

5. (2) Broncos (9-2) — It’s clear the formula to beating the Broncos is pressuring Peyton Manning. The veteran QB was 0-for-6 with an interception when faced with pressure from Patriots defenders. For the first time this season, Denver doesn’t look like the clear favorite in the AFC.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, NFL Power Rankings, Peyton Manning
Wes Welker: ‘I’ve got a lot of respect’ for Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick 11.25.13 at 1:56 am ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” A disheartened Wes Welker spoke to the media about his return to New England following the Patriots’ 34-31 comeback victory over the Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

“It was a little different for sure,” said Welker. “It was great seeing Mr. Kraft. I got a lot of respect for him as a man, as an owner of a team and everything else.”

The former Patriots receiver caught four balls for 31 yards in his first return to Gillette Stadium since signing with Denver this off-season. Before the game, a video tribute highlighting the great moments of Welker’s career in New England was played inside the stadium on the video board.

“It was very classy of them to do something like that and I appreciate it very much,” the wide receiver said.

One of the big storylines coming into the game was the relationship between he and Bill Belichick. In a pregame interview conducted by Tedy Bruschi on ESPN, the 32-year-old receiver said, “I think so” when asked if he still had a good relationship with Belichick. Welker went on to say he was anticipating, “the most awkward situation that could possibly happen” if he and his former head coach were to interact.

After the game, Welker talked about that interaction which took place on the field following the game where Belichick sought out his former receiver.

“It wasn’t awkward at all,” Welker said. “It was good to see him. I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach. He came over and was like ‘good job; we’ll see you all again I’m sure.’”

For Welker, a 10-year veteran, he acknowledged he tried to make this just another game, but it wasn’t easy.

‘€œI tried to. You try to make it just a regular game, but it’€™s hard at times,” he said. “You try and go out there and focus and do your job. I’€™m sure there were more emotions and things like that going into it for sure.’€

In his first time back at Gillette Stadium the game could have marked closure on his time in New England, but ultimately it didn’t go as he would have liked and now it’s time for Welker to put the game behind him and move on to another big game against division rival Kansas City next Sunday.

‘€œIt would have been a lot better closer if we would’€™ve won, but I had a lot of good years here and things like that,” he said. “I feel like I’€™ve had closure before and I’€™ve kind of moved on. We have another big game this week against Kansas City and we have to move on to that.’€

Ryan Hannable contributed to this article.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Broncos, Patriots, Robert Kraft
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Pats drop out of top 5 11.20.13 at 11:58 am ET
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The Seahawks are showing no signs of wanting to fly south as winter nears. Seattle continues its reign at No. 1 as it heads into its bye week and prepares for a tough stretch against the Saints (3) and 49ers (8).

The Panthers (4) claw their way into the top five after a statement win in the Monday night game. The Patriots drop three spots to No. 7 and have no time to focus on a controversial call in Week 11 because the Broncos (2) are set to roll into Foxboro. Tom Brady will prepare for his 14th showdown vs. Peyton Manning. Brady has had the upper hand in nine of the 13 meetings between the two stars.

The bottom five welcomes its latest playoff team of 2012. The Falcons plummet to No. 30 and join the Vikings (28) and Texans (31) as teams to have hit rock bottom after reaching the postseason last year.

Many teams still are in the thick of the playoff race as the final quarter of the season approaches. Check back next week to see who’s on the way up and who’s on the way down.

1. (1) Seahawks (10-1) — The Seahawks look to be getting stronger and stronger as they inch closer to capturing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They go into their bye week with six straight wins.

 2. (2) Broncos (9-1) — Manning has been the story all year, but the Broncos offensive line deserves the credit after Sunday night’s performance. The O-line came up huge on the biggest stage by not allowing a sack to the team that led the league in that category going into the game.

3. (5) Saints (8-2) — The Saints are a scary team when the offense is firing on all cylinders. Drew Brees is quietly putting up monster numbers once again as Peyton Manning gets all the attention.

4. (7) Panthers (7-3) — Cam Newton and the Panthers finally got the league’s attention.  Newton needed to prove he could lead his team late in the fourth quarter against a playoff-caliber team, and he accomplished just that.

5. (3) Chiefs (9-1) —  That ferocious Chiefs defense was non-existent Sunday night. Kansas City had a tremendous opportunity to rough up Peyton Manning but was unable to even knock him down. Despite the loss, many of the mistakes are fixable and the Chiefs should be able to rush Manning better when they face him again at Arrowhead.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Broncos, Cam Newton, Drew Brees
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