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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 9: Broncos vault to 2 after rout of Packers 11.05.15 at 11:40 pm ET
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We’re down to four unbeaten teams with the Patriots, Broncos, Bengals and Panthers all winning in Week 8. The Broncos‘ beatdown of the Packers in prime time vaulted them into the No. 2 slot. Their defense looks like the best unit since the 2001 Ravens. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are terrorizing opposing offensive lines and making things easier on the secondary, which is loaded with talent in Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Chris Harris. Gary Kubiak‘s revamped offense took a while to take hold, but C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are running over teams, which is the only way to mask the deficiencies of their over-the-hill quarterback.

Cam Newton generated a lot of conversation this week after with a win over Indianapolis. He made a few mistakes but did what he had to do to get the win. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Newton is built like a linebacker, which is convenient, since so many Panthers plays put him right in the thick of the defense. Typically, the narrative with “running” quarterbacks includes some sort of caveat about them eventually getting hurt if they don’t avoid contact (see RG III, Michael Vick, Andrew Luck, Ryan Fitzpatrick). But Newton often is the one left standing after a collision with defenders. He can throw from the pocket and is athletic enough to get big yards with his legs. For these reasons, Newton has surpassed all other “next generation” QBs.

The Raiders jump into the top 10 with an impressive 14-point victory over the Jets. Derek Carr has been playing well all season, and his chemistry with rookie wideout Amari Cooper has been noticeable as well. Although the AFC West belongs to Denver, the Raiders could make a push for the playoffs a lot sooner than people imagined. Carr’s name soon will be mentioned alongside Newton, Russell Wilson and Luck if he keeps up this pace.

1. (1 last week) Patriots (7-0) — Another rout of an AFC opponent keeps the Pats on top with no end in sight. Tom Brady keeps rolling and now has 20 TDs with only one interception. The defensive backfield hasn’t really been tested since opening night, and likely won’t be until the playoffs.

2. (5) Broncos (7-0) — The best defense in the NFL put the clamps on Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night. Gary Kubiak is doing an outstanding job of masking his QB’s inefficiencies with an excellent run game.

3. (2) Bengals (7-0) — The Bengals are 8-0 for the first time in their history, following Thursday night’s win over the Browns. A tough schedule lies ahead (unlike NE and Denver), so a first-round bye will be tough to get.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 8: Broncos-Packers showdown looms 10.29.15 at 10:06 pm ET
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Heading into Week 8, there are five teams remaining with a perfect 6-0 record. All five teams have had a bye week. Statistically, the Patriots have had the most difficult schedule, including two teams with winning records. Of 18 combined wins among the Bengals, Packers and Panthers, all of them have been against teams with losing records. Denver played one opponent that has a winning record, beating Minnesota (4-2). Green Bay travels to Denver on Sunday night for what will be the game of year up this point. Expect some more movement at the top next week.

The NFC East is the tightest race in football, with last-place Dallas only 1 1/2 games out of first. The Cowboys need Tony Romo and Dez Bryant back on the field ASAP, or Greg Hardy will kill the team from within. Hardy’s postgame back and forth with the media was not the same as Marshawn Lynch‘s shenanigans. Jerry Jones has enabled the worst person in the NFL to be the worst person he can be.

Cam Newton continues to impress me every week. He’s faster than both Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, and has all the pocket presence that’s expected from the first overall pick. The Panthers should be shopping for another receiving threat to go along with Greg Olsen, and as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk pointed out, it should be Anquan Boldin. Boldin still is productive in the twilight of his career and would bring a lot of playoff experience to a young Panthers locker room.

1. (1 last week) Patriots (6-0) — Thirty more points from the offense (despite 11 drops) against a great defense keeps the Pats in the top spot. Brandon LaFell let six balls hit the ground but was able to create separation all day. He’ll be fine, and Tom Brady will have five legitimate scoring threats on the field at all times.

2. (2) Bengals (6-0) — The schedule isn’t grueling down the stretch, but road games in Pittsburgh, Arizona and Denver will put this offense to the test.

3. (3) Packers (6-0) — Mike McCarthy has an even harder schedule ahead, with back-to-back road games in Denver and Carolina, then trips to Minnesota and Arizona later in the year.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 7: Undefeated Panthers continue climb 10.23.15 at 8:39 am ET
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Five teams remain undefeated through six NFL weeks. The most impressive win in Week 6 was in Seattle, where the Panthers improved to 5-0 with a 27-23 win over the Seahawks. Nine QBs who started this past Sunday were drafted with the No. 1 overall pick. Of that bunch, Cam Newton has the most upside and has made the most improvement on a year-to-year basis. Andrew Luck was supposed to be a sure thing, but recently Newton has surpassed him (as well as Russell Wilson).

The Jets continue to exceed expectations, despite Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s penchant for turnovers. A 4-1 record, a strong running game and an outstanding defense has Jets fans in a controlled frenzy. The team has taken on the personality of the its coach, Todd Bowles, and it’s working. It’ll be interesting to see how Bowles deploys Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie against Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.

Staying in the AFC East, the Bills are sinking fast, and Rex Ryan heads to London trying to a quell a mini-mutiny. Ryan has given his defense a lot of freedom this year, and the Bills have responded by being the most penalized team in football, and now they’re popping off about Rex’s decisions on defense. Meanwhile, interim Dolphins coach Dan Campbell won his first game (albeit against the Titans coming off a bye week) so he’ll make things interesting as fans in Miami will get a chance to see what they have with their former tight ends coach.

1. (1 last week) Patriots (5-0) — The offense continues to roll with another 30-plus-point performance in Indy. Tom Brady has the team leading the league with 36.6 points per game. With the team at 5-0, fans and media in New England are looking ahead, trying to find a game the Pats could lose. If this team stays relatively healthy, the road the Super Bowl will go through Foxboro, again.

2. (3) Bengals (6-0) — Andy Dalton is 0-4 in playoff games, but it might be easier to get his first win if that game comes at home, after a bye. Is Marvin Lewis the second-best coach in the AFC? Apparently.

3. (2) Packers (6-0) — A great character win Sunday, with rookie CB Damarious Randall coming up huge with a game-saving pass deflection in the final seconds. The Packers head into the bye at a perfect 6-0, but they will have tough tests when they return, with back-to-back away games against the Broncos and Panthers.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 6: Seahawks slide out of top 10 10.15.15 at 10:28 pm ET
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A lot of movement this week as a few teams simply fell off a cliff. The biggest drop was in Kansas City as the Chiefs fall 15 spots to No. 28 with the loss of Jamaal Charles to a season-ending ACL tear. Perhaps the Lions were ranked too high last week (20) but they fell 12 spots to No. 32 as the only winless team in the league. After an overtime loss to Cincinnati, the Seahawks finally are out of the top 10. Reputation can only carry you for so long. Pete Carroll needs to figure things out, and fast.

In a shocker, the Jets emerge from the bye week as one of the top teams in the NFL with a 3-1 record. The Giants and Steelers both made huge jumps and enter the top 10 with prime-time wins over the 49ers and Chargers, respectively.

New England and Green Bay stay put as 1-2, but the Bengals are doing everything they can shake off negative early-season stigmas. Peyton Manning‘s inability to score against the Raiders should make Broncos fans weary. Here we go:

1. (1 last week) Patriots (4-0) — The league’s top team was only challenged for about a quarter and a half Sunday, and even that was only one side of the ball. A season-ending injury to the oft-maligned Nate Solder will be overcome as the Patriots head to Indy in Week 6. The emergence of Dion Lewis has been surprising not only to the fans, but to some NFL coaches as well. Rex Ryan didn’t know his name, and Chuck Pagano had to be reminded by the beat writers that Lewis was a Colt for a short time in 2014. Pencil in the Pats for the top spot next week, and watch the line slide to minus-14 all weekend.

2. (2) Packers (5-0) — A tipped ball broke Aaron Rodgers‘ streak of interception-free games at Lambeau, but the Packers still looked dominant. Clay Matthews has an early entry for the hit of the year. The defense ball-hawked and got four INTs.

3. (4) Bengals (5-0) — An OT victory over the Seahawks is the type of of win this team needs to prove itself an NFL powerhouse. Andy Dalton‘s heady QB sneak for a TD late it the fourth opened the door for the comeback. Kicker Mike Nugent clanking the game-winning FG off the post (it still went through), which is unsettling.

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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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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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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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