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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 5: Falcons retain crown 10.02.12 at 7:09 am ET
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For the first time in this still-young season, the No. 1-ranked team retains its crown. “Matty Ice” and the Falcons improve to 4-0 and stay atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Texans are breathing down their neck at No. 2. In an extremely close race, strength of schedule was the deciding factor in crowning the Falcons supreme for the second straight week.

The top 10 also stayed relatively the same with a few teams moving up and down. The Cardinals (6), Patriots (7) and Broncos (8) all jumped one spot.

Every team ranked 21 through 32 in last week’s rankings lost in Week 4, aside from the Colts (bye week). The 0-4 Browns maintain their spot at the bottom of the pack.

Looking ahead to Week 5 there are three games that could have a significant impact on the rankings. The Eagles will play the Steelers in the Battle of Pennsylvania, the Broncos face the Patriots, and the Chargers will take on a Saints team in search of its first win of the season.

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss this edition of the NFL Power Rankings.

1. (1) Falcons (4-0) ‘€” Great teams are resilient, and the Falcons proved that on Sunday. Matt Ryan didn’t flinch when he was forced to start a game-winning drive on his 1-yard line. The true measure of a team is how it performs in pressure situations, and the Falcons answered the call.

2. (2) Texans (4-0) ‘€” Week after week the Texans show why they are one of the most complete teams in football. They score the second most points per game and they give up the least amount of points on defense.

3. (3) 49ers (3-1) ‘€” Coming off a tough loss, the 49ers were out to make a statement against the Jets. They certainly didn’t disappoint. The smothering defense of the Niners completely overmatched the beleaguered Jets offense.

4. (4) Packers (2-2) ‘€” It took a game against one of the worst defenses in the league, but Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense finally performed at a high level. Cedric Benson certainly was a factor; he averaged close to five yards per carry. Although they won by the skin of their teeth, the Packers showed they can handle adversity and come out on top. The referees haven’t been kind to Green Bay over the last two weeks. 

5. (5) Ravens (3-1) ‘€” The Ravens survived a difficult two-game stretch in which they played New England on Sunday night and then were right back at it on Thursday against a divisional opponent. What has stood out most about the Ravens through four games is their offense. Torey Smith, Anquan Bolden and Ray Rice have made it easy for Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense to average 30 points per game.

6. (7) Cardinals (4-0) ‘€” You have to give credit to the Cardinals for battling back and finding a way to win, but they still have a lot of work to do. Kevin Kolb was sacked eight times in the victory over the Dolphins.

7. (8) Patriots (2-2) ‘€” The Patriots are only going to get better as the season goes along. The league should give them their division championship T-shirts tomorrow. The AFC East is a disgrace.

8. (9) Broncos (2-2) ‘€” Peyton Mannings return to the NFL has been anything but easy. The veteran quarterback has already faced the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in this poll, plus he has to face the Patriots Sunday. Manning is being tested early and that will help him in the long run.

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Read More: Chuck Pagano, Matt Ryan, NFL Power Rankings, Tom Brady
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 4: Replacement refs fiasco won’t alter rankings 09.25.12 at 9:03 am ET
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They may be able to alter the outcome of games, but we will not allow the NFL and the replacement officials to affect the WEEI Power Rankings. Having said that, the Packers are ranked as if they won and the Seahawks are ranked as if they lost.

For the third straight week, the top-ranked team fell from grace. Despite being given two additional timeouts, the 49ers were upset by the Vikings and fall to No. 3. Matt Ryan and the Falcons climb to the top spot. The Texans are slightly behind them at No. 2.

The Cardinals finally are starting to gain some respect and jump all the way to No. 7 after another dominating defensive performance.

If the recent reports are true, we’re in for at least another week of replacement officials. Hopefully we’re not forced to pretend that certain teams won again.

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss this edition of the NFL Power Rankings.

1. (3) Falcons (3-0) ‘€” There aren’t many weaknesses on this team. On offense, no quarterback has been better than Matt Ryan. The 27-year-old already has eight touchdown passes to go along with just one interception. The Falcons lead the league with 11 forced turnovers.

2. (2) Texans (3-0) ‘€” The Texans are just an overall well-balanced team. If they can ensure Matt Schaub never takes a hit like the one he took from Joe Mays on Sunday, Houston will continue to win. This is one of the best teams in the league in one of the worst divisions.

3. (1) 49ers (2-1) ‘€” The Niners turned in a very uncharacteristic performance on Sunday, but it’s way too early to say this team isn’t as good as we thought it was before the loss to the Vikings. Interceptions, fumbles, penalties and poor play on special teams all contributed to the loss. This team has been far too consistent over the past year to think it won’t bounce back. Alex Smith threw his first interception in 249 attempts.

4. (4) Packers (1-2*) ‘€” We have yet to see the Packers offense we grew accustomed to watching over the past couple of years. Maybe it has something to do with playing against two of the top defenses in the league (Niners and Seahawks). Still, Green Bay should be 2-1 right now. Bobby Valentine would call this “a damn shame.”

5. (6) Ravens (2-1) ‘€”The offense is now the Ravens’ biggest asset. Joe Flacco has proven he is capable of putting up big numbers in the air and leading his team late in games. Ray Rice has been key to Flacco’s progression. The stud running back demands constant attention and that makes the team’s play-action so effective.

6. (13) Giants (2-1) ‘€” Give credit to the Giants for not missing a beat after losing their best wide receiver and running back to injury. They turned in a dominant performance against the Panthers.

7. (16) Cardinals (3-0) ‘€” The Cardinals defense can’t be described as anything less than “dominant” after its first three games. Arizona’s D is allowing just 13.3 points per game. As good as this team has looked, it still has shortcomings. There are still question marks at the quarterback position. Remember, the Broncos jumped out to a 6-0 start in 2009 and went on to miss the playoffs.

8. (7) Patriots (1-2) ‘€”The Patriots’ inability to close games late in the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball is a reason for concern. The revamped defense got exposed by Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense. The Patriots cornerbacks are not talented enough to play man coverage on opposing receivers. We saw both Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington get fooled on Sunday night. The Ravens receivers simply ran by them.

9. (8) Broncos (1-2) ‘€” Unfortunately for the Broncos, the schedule hasn’t been kind to them. In the past two weeks, they’ve faced two of the best teams in the league. Slow starts haunted Peyton Manning and the Broncos in both games.

10. (12) Bears (2-1) ‘€” The Bears defense gets to the quarterback. The relentless D leads the league with 14 sacks in three games. That number will get even higher when the team is finished with the feeble offensive line of the Cowboys next Monday night.

11. (11) Cowboys (2-1) ‘€” The Cowboys improved to 2-1 but Tony Romo took an absolute beating in the process. The offensive line has been terrible at protecting its starting QB. If the team continues down this path, Romo won’t be healthy enough to start.

12. (9) Steelers (1-2) ‘€” The Steelers could benefit greatly from an established run game. With the type of weapons Ben Roethlisberger has available in the receiving game, Pittsburgh’s offense has the potential to be a lot more dangerous. Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and Jonathan Dwyer just haven’t been able to get the job done. Rashard Mendenhall is inching closer to a return after suffering a torn ACL last season.

13. (19) Seahawks (2-1*) ‘€” What an unbelievable performance from the Seahawks defense. The defensive line is absolutely relentless and the secondary is the best in football. A few more weapons on offense and Pete Carroll will have himself a Super Bowl-caliber team.

14. (5) Eagles (2-1) ‘€” Michael Vick is responsible for nine of the Eagles’ 12 turnovers so far this season. No team has turned the ball over more than the Eagles. It’s just a matter of time before all of these vicious, violent hits take a toll on Vick. He needs to have better pocket presence.

15. (10) Chargers (2-1) ‘€” We saw Philip Rivers get back to making poor decisions on Sunday. The Chargers QB was frequently under pressure by a relentless Falcons defense that resulted in his throwing two interceptions.

16. (22) Bengals (2-1) ‘€” Andy Dalton already has five game-winning drives in his short career. The Bengals are an exciting young team to watch.

17. (20) Bills (2-1) ‘€” It’s difficult to lose a starting running back who’s averaging close to 10 yards per carry. The emergence of C.J. Spiller provided the Bills with a great weapon on the ground. Now, they’ll have to do without their electrifying back going into their biggest game of the season.

18. (15) Panthers (1-2) ‘€” I think it’s great that Steve Smith lectured Cam Newton on Thursday night for acting unprofessional and immature. Smith is a veteran and a leader on that team and Newton should soak up any knowledge he can get from established players in the league.

19. (23) Redskins (1-2) ‘€” RG3 can breath a sigh of relief that Trent Williams‘ injury is just a bone bruise. The left tackle had to leave Sunday’s game because of the injury. His absence was felt tremendously and contributed to the Bengals sacking the rookie six times and knocking him down 13 times.

20. (27) Vikings (2-1) ‘€” After watching Christian Ponder pick apart one of the best defenses in the league,  the Vikings may finally have a franchise quarterback in the making. The young QB has looked great so far. Ponder is completing 70 percent of his passes and hasn’t thrown a pick yet.

21. (17) Jets (2-1) ‘€” The crippling loss of Darrelle Revis for the season will have an enormous impact on this team’s chances of making the playoffs. Aside from being one of the few respected leaders on the team, Revis’ role on the defense can’t be replaced. ESPN Stats & Information breaks down just how much the All-Pro corner will be missed.

22. (26) Titans (1-2) ‘€” The Titans played in one of the most head-scratching, entertaining games of the year. The young buck Jake Locker completed two huge touchdown passes and helped lead his team to its first W of the season. Despite the win and the large offensive numbers, running back Chris Johnson was once again a non-factor.

23. (14) Lions (1-2) ‘€” Jim Schwartz is a great coach but he definitely blew it for the Lions in Week 3. Under no circumstance can you allow your team to lose like that. Matthew Stafford left Sunday’s game with a high hamstring strain and it’s unclear whether he’ll play in Week 4. Hopefully for the Lions, Schwartz, backup quarterback Shaun Hill and center Dominic Raiola can get on the same page by then.

24. (25) Chiefs (1-2) ‘€” The Chiefs were waiting for their young running back Jamaal Charles to break out. After a huge comeback win, this might just be what Romeo Crennel‘s team needs to pull off a string of wins and strong play.

25. (21) Buccaneers (1-2) ‘€” Greg Shiano has his team playing tough, competitive football after a debacle of a season last year. It’s easy to see the rookie head coach has already had a positive impact on this young Buccaneers team.

26. (18) Saints (0-3) ‘€” It’s time to push the panic button in the Bayou. The Saints were outscored 11-0 in the fourth quarter and allowed one of the league’s worst teams to beat them at home. The suspension of Sean Payton has haunted this team all year. The offense hasn’t been able to establish any type of threat in the run game. The defense “can’t stop a nose bleed,” to quote Jets linebacker Bart Scott.

27. (29) Raiders (1-2) ‘€” Usually when a team gives up four touchdowns and close to 400 yards passing, it loses. However, the Raiders prevailed in overtime against the Steelers. Penalties have always killed Oakland but in Sunday’s win the team was only flagged three times.

28. (24) Rams (1-2) ‘€” The strength of the Rams offense is the run game. If Steven Jackson and the running backs can’t get anything going, Sam Bradford is in trouble. The offensive line allowed Bradford to be sacked six times against the Bears.

29. (28) Dolphins (1-2) ‘€” Losing Reggie Bush for the year would have been more devastating than losing to the Jets in overtime. The running back has been the key to the offense and the news that he could be ready to play as soon as next week should be encouraging for Joe Philbin.

30. (32) Jaguars (1-2) ‘€” Blaine Gabbert will gain confidence after leading his team on a game-winning touchdown drive. The young QB looks like he’s becoming more comfortable in the pocket.

31. (30) Colts (1-2) ‘€” The loss of Austin Collie just takes yet another weapon away from rookie Andrew Luck. The first-year QB has developed nicely over the first three games. It will be interesting to see how he does when he has a run game and a few more targets to throw to.

32. (31) Browns (0-3) ‘€” Time and time again the Browns find themselves in the cellar. After three weeks, the Browns are one of only two teams still searching for a win.

Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

Read More: Darrelle Revis, joe flacco, NFL Power Rankings, Rex Ryan
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 3: Patriots plummet to No. 7 09.18.12 at 9:52 am ET
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For the third straight week, a new team climbs to the top of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The 49ers now have the throne as they come off two dominant performances against playoff teams. The Patriots’ reign at No. 1 didn’t last long and they drop to No. 7 after a shocking loss to the Cardinals at home.

Balance is the key attribute to the top three teams. The 49ers (1), Texans (2) and Falcons (3) all have great defenses to go along with a strong offense.

The Saints continue to march in the wrong direction and fall all the way to No. 18. Meanwhile, the 2-0 Eagles jump all the way to No. 5 after a huge win over the Ravens.

More change is in store for the teams in the top 10. Two of the powerhouses of the AFC, the Patriots and Ravens, will face off on Sunday night. One team will bounce back after suffering a loss in Week 2 while the other will fall a game below .500.

Check back here next Tuesday to see how all 32 teams rise and fall. Here are the rankings, with last week’s rank in parentheses:

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss the NFL Power Rankings.

1. (2) 49ers (2-0) ‘€” It’s clear, the 49ers are the best team in the league. Jim Harbaugh‘s team doesn’t seem to have a weakness. The Niners have a strong run game, a formidable passing attack and an elite defense. Alex Smith has completed over 70 percent of his passes and has been protecting the ball well.

2. (4) Texans (2-0) ‘€” The Texans took care of business in Week 2 and improved to 2-0. It’s tough to gauge how good this team really is after Houston played two extremely weak opponents. It will be fun to watch the Texans against Peyton Manning and the Broncos next week. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alex Smith, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, NFL Power Rankings
NFL Power Rankings, Week 2: Patriots claw to top 09.11.12 at 9:26 am ET
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A wild and exciting Week 1 is officially in the books and already we have a new No. 1 team that reigns over the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Bolstered by a new and improved defense, the Patriots climb to the top spot. Meanwhile, in the NFC, the 49ers “Lambeau leaped” the Packers after beating them in a statement game in Green Bay.

Aaron Rodgers and Co. drop down to No. 5 after their loss. The Texans clawed their way into the top five and sit at No. 4. Peyton Manning and the new-look Broncos are the fourth-ranked team in the AFC and stand at No. 7 overall.

Looking ahead to Week 2, there are a few matchups to watch that could impact the rankings. The Bears and Packers will battle in an NFC North showdown, and the Jets and Steelers will face off in a battle could move the winner into the top 10 of next week’s rankings.

Listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss the NFL Power Rankings on WEEI.

1. (2 last week) Patriots (1-0) ‘€” A young, rejuvenated defense makes Bill Belichick‘s squad the clear AFC favorite after Week 1. This D has much bigger tests ahead of it, but holding Chris Johnson to just four yards in 11 attempts is very impressive. The versatility the pass offense showed on Sunday was expected. If Stevan Ridley can balance the offense and become a threat on the ground, the Patriots will be as close to unstoppable as a team possibly can get.

2. (4) 49ers (1-0) ‘€” The defense picked up exactly where it left off. The 49ers made Aaron Rodgers and the Packers look confused and out of rhythm. I don’t think there’s another defense in the league that is capable of that. The Niners are a well-rounded, well-coached team that made a statement to the entire NFL in Week 1: Last year was no fluke.

3. (5) Ravens (1-0) ‘€” It wasn’t the defense, it was Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense that was most impressive in the team’s win over the Bengals. With Ray Rice in the backfield, opposing defenses always have to respect the run. On Monday night, the Ravens’ play action was in full effect.

4. (6) Texans (1-0) ‘€” After the Texans’ 30-10 victory over the Dolphins, Andre Johnson said to reporters, “Man, we didn’t even play that well and won by 20 points. It’s crazy.” That quote says a lot about how good Houston really is. The Texans have playmakers on both sides of the ball and will go deep into the playoffs if they can stay healthy.

5. (1) Packers (0-1) ‘€” Just one week into the season and the Packers already have matched last year’s loss total. Still, why panic? When Aaron Rodgers is behind center, Green Bay has a shot to win every Sunday. A Week 1 loss to a well-balanced 49ers team doesn’t mean the Packers won’t contend for  a Super Bowl.

6. (8) Falcons (1-0) ‘€” The Falcons’ prolific offense showed how dangerous it can be. Matt Ryan played just the way he needs to play all season if Atlanta wants to win the NFC South.

7. (11) Broncos (1-0) ‘€” It’s tough to believe Peyton Manning hadn’t played a game since the 2010 season after watching the 36-year-old QB on Sunday night. Manning and the offense were in rhythm and operating like a well-oiled machine. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil made sure to remind everyone that the Broncos D is just as dominant.

8. (14) Cowboys (1-0) ‘€” Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne did a great job at shutting down the Giants‘ dynamic receivers. The Cowboys could turn into the favorite in the NFC East if their defense can consistently perform like it did on opening night.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, NFL Power Rankings, Tom Brady
NFL Power Rankings, Week 1: Packers on top, Patriots lead AFC 09.05.12 at 11:21 am ET
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The much-anticipated 2012 NFL season kicks off Wednesday night in New Jersey as the defending Super Bowl champion Giants begin defense of their crown against the Cowboys. However, the Giants won’t start the year at No. 1 in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Led by MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Packers find themselves in the familiar No. 1 spot. Eli Manning and the Giants start at No. 3.

Behind Tom Brady and a high-powered offense, the Patriots once again are poised to be one of the best teams in the league. The Patriots are the top-ranked AFC team and sit at No. 2 overall.

It’s finally time to get answers to the countless questions around the NFL. How will Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow co-exist with the Jets? Can Peyton Manning be the Peyton Manning of old? How big of an impact will the replacement officials have on the game? All of these questions and more will be answered.

Click here to listen to Mut and Merloni discuss the WEEI NFL Power Rankings.

1. Packers (15-1) ‘€” Green Bay once again sets the standard in the NFL, seeking its second Super Bowl title in three years. Over the past two seasons, the Packers are 29-8 in the regular season and playoffs.

2. Patriots (13-3) ‘€” Brady and the Patriots offense will be as explosive as ever. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd will be giving opposing teams nightmares all season long. It will be interesting to see how improved Bill Belichick‘s defense is. Rookie Chandler Jones has the potential to be an absolute force on the defensive line.

3. Giants (9-7) ‘€” Eli Manning is clutch, maybe even more so than Brady. SI’s Peter King brought up an amazing stat about the Giants QB: In his last three games against the Patriots, Manning has been behind at the two-minute warning and each time has led his team to a go-ahead touchdown.

4. 49ers (13-3) ‘€” Jim Harbaugh‘s 49ers are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. The addition of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham should be enough for Alex Smith and the offense to improve in the red zone.

5. Ravens (12-4) ‘€” Baltimore fell just one dropped pass short of the Super Bowl. People talk about the “aging” defense, but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have yet to show any signs of slowing down. On top of that, Haloti Ngata is one of the best defensive linemen in the game, and the addition of rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw gives the defense some youth.

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Read More: Eli Manning, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady
WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Training camp edition 07.26.12 at 7:13 am ET
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Training camps are underway across the NFL and it’s just 45 days until the Cowboys kick off the season against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on Sept. 5. The offseason was filled with news of free agent signings, suspensions, player arrests and comeback kids. Now it’s time to see where all 32 teams rank before the preseason and injuries begin.

The two teams that dominated the regular season in 2011 find themselves at the top. Powered by their high flying offenses, the Packers and Patriots will start the season as two of the elite teams in the league. The Giants are at No. 3 coming off their second Super Bowl victory in five years.

The Saints (7) and Broncos (10) are two notable teams in the top 10. The anticipation is building by the day to see if Peyton Manning has something left in the tank and if the Saints can overcome “Bountygate.”

And now, since football is officially in the air, here is the first edition of WEEI’s 2012 NFL Power Rankings.

Audio: Click here to listen to Mut and Merloni discuss the NFL Power Rankings.

1. Packers (15-1) ‘€” Coming off a 15-1 season, the Packers addressed their defense in the offseason. Their first six draft picks were dedicated to the defensive side of the ball, and rightfully so. Green Bay’s defense was one of the worst in the NFL in 2011. With that said, the Packers still won 15 games. There’s no doubt, the Packers have a great shot at winning their second Super Bowl in three years.

2. Patriots (13-3) ‘€” The Patriots offense, once again led by Tom Brady, speaks for itself. The addition of Brandon Lloyd adds an outside threat to the arsenal. Bill Belichick will undoubtedly focus on improving the defense during training camp, and the team brought in the personnel to ensure that it’s not the 31st-ranked defense for a second year in a row. First-round draft picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are expected to make an immediate impact. Both add a tremendous amount of athleticism to a defensive squad that struggled to defend the pass and get off the field on third down.

3. Giants (9-7) ‘€” The defending Super Bowl champs are No. 1 in another category, most difficult schedule. The Giants will face six teams that made the postseason in 2011, and don’t forget, that doesn’t include the Eagles or Cowboys. If any team is up to the challenge, it’s the G-Men. Eli Manning has proven he is indeed an elite QB in the NFL, and you can ask the Packers and Patriots about New York’s relentless pass-rushing defense.

4. 49ers (13-3) ‘€” Down to his final out, Alex Smith resurrected his career in San Francisco. It was obvious new coach Jim Harbaugh made a major impact in improving the former first overall pick. If Smith can improve on third down and in the red zone, the 49ers can once again compete for a Super Bowl. The offense finally has weapons on the outside to go along with the run game, and Vernon Davis. Randy Moss and Mario Manningham will help the Niners put points on the board.

5. Ravens (12-4) ‘€” Ray Lewis and the Ravens were so close to the Super Bowl they could taste it. They’ll once again be one of the elite teams in the NFL vying for a chance to play for the Lombardi Trophy. Joe Flacco is the biggest X-factor. In the AFC championship, he proved he can play in big games. He’ll have to be more consistent in 2012. The Ravens should once again have their signature shutdown D, even with Terrell Suggs out until November. Rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw will be relied upon to fill in for “T-Sizzle.”

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Read More: Eli Manning, NFL Power Rankings, Peyton Manning, Rex Ryan
NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Patriots take control of AFC 12.20.11 at 10:12 am ET
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A wild Week 15 in the NFL concluded with many underdogs on top. The Chiefs knocked off the Packers; the Chargers clobbered the Ravens; the Redskins upset the Giants; and the Colts prevailed over the Titans, all proving how unpredictable the NFL is with each given week. The most surprising outcome was the Chiefs victory over the Packers. Aaron Rodgers and the defending champs saw their quest for a perfect season go up in smoke. The Pack had rattled off 19 straight wins before falling to Kansas City.

The race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC took a dramatic turn as the Texans, Ravens and Steelers all fell. The Patriots now boast the best record in the AFC and are classified as the best team in the conference in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Tom Brady and the Pats now have sole control of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

AFC Playoff picture: Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Texans have all clinched.

NFC Playoff picture: Packers, Saints, 49ers have all clinched. The Lions and Falcons have a commanding lead in the wild card race.

1. (1) Packers (13-1) ‘€” One loss won’t do anything to hurt the Packers’ chances of winning the Super Bowl but losses to offensive linemen might. Injuries are piling up on Aaron Rodgers‘ line. Center Scott Wells and guard Josh Sitton are the only two Week 1 starters who are healthy. Brian Bulaga, Chad Clifton and Derek Sherod are all injured. The Chiefs laid out the blueprint on how to beat the Packers: Relentlessly rush Aaron Rodgers and disrupt the Packers receivers’ routes.

2. (3) Saints (11-3) ‘€” The Saints will be a very dangerous team when the playoffs begin. Stopping Drew Brees and the Saints offense looks like an impossible task. Brees is on pace to shatter Dan Marino‘s single season passing yards record. He also has a career high 37 touchdown passes.

3. (5) Patriots (11-3) ‘€” The Patriots offense once again showed how versatile it is. Aaron Hernandez stepped up as the go-to receiver for Tom Brady since the Broncos decided to take Rob Gronkowski out of the game as best they could. There certainly is no shortage of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. The defense is a different story. The loss of Andre Carter, the team’s best pass rusher, is a devastating blow for the Patriots. The pass defense needs all the help it can get and a lack of rush on the quarterback is only going to make it more difficult on the secondary.

4. (6) 49ers (11-3) ‘€” Capitalizing on red zone opportunities is one thing the 49ers know they have to do better. They took a step in the right direction Monday night when they scored touchdowns on two of their three trips inside the Steelers’ 20. However, on one of those occasions, they were helped out by a Steelers personal foul penalty on fourth down. Entering the playoffs, they’ll have one of the worst offenses in the NFC but one of the best defenses. If they can improve in the red zone, the Niners will be a dangerous team.

5. (2) Ravens (10-4) ‘€” Joe Flacco could be a reason why the Ravens fail to make it to the Super Bowl. He has been terribly inconsistent this year and very rarely do we see teams with mediocre quarterbacks win the Super Bowl. The fourth-year QB isn’t fooling any defenses with his throws. At times, he’s predetermining where he is going to throw the football and that has led to interceptions. Ray Rice also had just 10 carries in the loss. In the Ravens’ four losses, Rice has had 13, 8, 5 and 10 carries. See the trend?

6. (4) Steelers (10-4) ‘€” It might be time for the Steelers to seriously consider shutting down Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of the regular season. The chances of winning the division and clinching the No. 1 seed went out the window with the loss to the Niners. The Ravens’ two remaining games are against the Browns and Bengals. The Steelers will have a much better shot in the playoffs with a healthy Roethlisberger. It’s not worth the risk of playing “Big Ben” and having him further aggravate his ankle injury.

7. (8) Falcons (9-5) ‘€” The much anticipated rematch between the Falcons and Saints will finally arrive this Monday night. Running the ball and setting the tempo with Michael Turner is an obvious key to Atlanta’s success but Julio Jones is a major factor as well. The last time these two teams met, rookie WR Julio Jones missed most of the game with a hamstring injury. Jones, along with Roddy White, will make it extremely difficult for the Saints defense to stop the Falcons offense.

8. (11) Lions (9-5) ‘€”For the fourth time this season, the Lions have come back from a double digit deficit. Matthew Stafford and the Lions are now in a prime position to clinch a playoff spot. For a city that has watched their team average 12 losses per season since 2001, postseason football would come as quite a welcome gift under the tree.

9. (7) Texans (10-4) ‘€” Turnovers are becoming a growing concern for Gary Kubiak. The Texans coach has watched his team give away the football nine times over the past four games. Arian Foster is responsible for four of those nine. The dynamic running back must shoulder the load for the offense with Matt Schaub out.

10. (10) Giants (7-7) ‘€” For the second time this year, the Giants lost to the Redskins. Eli Manning had his worst game of the season on Sunday but the Giants defense should shoulder a lot of the blame as well. The pass rush is ineffective and the secondary continues to give up big plays. They couldn’t get off the field on third down against Rex Grossman. The Redskins possessed the ball for 35 of the 60 minutes.

11. (12) Cowboys (8-6) ‘€” It’s amazing how fast a team’s fortunes can change in the NFL. After a demoralizing loss to the Giants last week, the Cowboys are back in the driver’s seat in the NFC East race because of the Redskins’ upset victory over New York. Felix Jones will be key to the Cowboys success. Tony Romo needs a strong run game to balance the offense and keep opposing teams on their toes. The division title is on the line the next two weeks. If the Cowboys can beat the Eagles and Giants, they’ll be division champs.

12. (15) Chargers (7-7) ‘€” Undefeated in December but winless in November; the Chargers are finally playing great football but the possibility of the postseason is slim. Right now, no team wants to play San Diego. The Chargers are winning by an average of 23 points-per-game in December. Look no further than Philip Rivers for the main reason for the recent success. Rivers has not thrown an interception during the current winning streak but threw 17 leading up to it.

13. (9) Jets (8-6) ‘€” The Jets D was torched for 420 total yards. It was obvious the absence of Jim Leonhard had an adverse effect on the defense. Tight end Brent Celek had a career game with 156 yards and a touchdown and running back LeSean McCoy averaged over five yards-per-carry. Offensively, it’s beginning to become clear that Mark Sanchez is incapable of leading the Jets to the Super Bowl. He now has thrown 13 interceptions and his 57.9 completion percentage is one of the worst in the league.

14. (13) Broncos (8-6) ‘€” Tim Tebow helped win games for the Broncos because he protected the football and didn’t turn it over. That didn’t happen Sunday against the Patriots. Tebow and two of his teammates were responsible for three fumbles, all of which resulted in points for the opposition. The good news for the Broncos is that they face the Bills in Week 16 and still are in a great position to win the division.

15. (21) Eagles (6-8) ‘€” The Eagles have won two straight games for the first time this season. This talented team is finally starting to show signs of why many predicted them to reach the Super Bowl. The defense has made a huge difference over the last two games. The Eagles D has a total of 13 sacks and seven turnovers in that span.

16. (18) Bengals (8-6) ‘€” Thanks to some great drafting, rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are becoming a lethal quarterback-wide receiver duo with loads of potential for the future. Dalton has already surpassed 3,000 yards for the year and Green has surpassed 1,000.

17. (16) Raiders (7-7) ‘€” Simply put, the Raiders are not a playoff caliber team. The potential and talent is there, but they shoot themselves in the foot week after week with penalties, turnovers and mistakes. The defense constantly let up big plays to the Lions. Matthew Stafford connected on 51- and 39-yard touchdown passes. He also drove his team down the field on a game-winning 98 yard touchdown drive with 1:35 left to play.

18. (14) Titans (7-7) ‘€” The opportunity was there but the Titans squandered away a great chance to take control of the one wild card spot remaining in the AFC. Matt Hasselbeck threw two costly interceptions; one was returned for a touchdown and another was in the red zone. Chris Johnson was stifled once again as well. The Titans are 4-0 when Johnson reaches 100 yards but he turned in a subpar performance against the winless Colts. The offensive line can also be blamed for failing to open holes for the run game.

19. (19) Cardinals (7-7) ‘€” Unfortunately for the Cardinals, numbers don’t lie and John Skelton is 5-1 as the starter. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb has a $63 million contract but a 2-6 record. Quietly, Skelton has become the “Tim Tebow” of the Cardinals. The second year QB struggles to pass the ball but somehow finds a way to win consistently in the fourth quarter.

20. (20) Seahawks (7-7) ‘€” The soaring Seahawks have won five of their last six games. Marshawn Lynch went over 1,000 yards rushing for the first time since 2008. He’s been the leading force in the Seahawks offense but now will have to do even more. Wide receiver Mike Williams joined fellow receiver Sidney Rice on IR.

21. (17) Bears (7-7) ‘€” The Bears have lost four straight games since Jay Cutler went down. Caleb Hanie has thrown three interceptions in three out of his four games he’s started. It’s extremely difficult to win in the NFL when a team loses its turnover battle and the Bears continue to do just that. They’ve turned the ball over 12 times since the Cutler injury.

22. (22) Dolphins (5-9) ‘€” The Reggie Bush pickup has added a great weapon on the Dolphins offense. The team is using Bush as the featured running back and it is paying off. His touches have increased as the season has progressed and it’s one of the reasons the Dolphins have won five of their last seven.

23. (25) Chiefs (6-8) ‘€” Romeo Crennel is doing his best to convince Scott Pioli that he is the right man for the head coaching vacancy in Kansas City. The Chiefs had a tremendous defensive game plan against the Packers. Kyle Orton‘s performance should also be noted. Orton threw for 299 yards and no interceptions.

24. (26) Panthers (5-9) ‘€” Cam Newton and the Panthers enjoyed their first win against a team over .500 on Sunday. Against one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Panthers put up 28 points on the Texans. The Texans haven’t allowed that many points since Week 6.

25. (27) Redskins (5-9) ‘€” The Redskins can go into the offseason knowing they beat the Giants twice and played some very competitive games against quality opponents in 2011. Rookies Roy Helu and Ryan Kerrigan have  made significant contributions to the team and both will be major pieces for the Redskins going forward.

26. (24) Bills (5-9) ‘€”Ryan Fitzpatrick has been one of the main reasons the Bills are amid a seven-game losing streak. He has a league-high 19 interceptions. Twelve of those picks have come during the current losing streak. The defense has been horrendous as well. The Bills D has allowed an average of 32 points-per-game during the losing streak.

27. (23) Buccaneers (4-10) ‘€” The longest losing streak in the NFL now belongs to the Bucs. The eight straight losses have made it clear that Raheem Morris‘ team is not responding to his coaching. Penalties, mental breakdowns and turnovers continue to hurt the Bucs week after week. Josh Freeman has regressed in 2011 and LeGarrette Blount has failed to establish any type of run game in the offense. In the latest lost, the Bucs defense allowed 28 first downs while converting only seven on offense.

28. (28) Browns (4-10) ‘€” The Browns will end another dismal season against the Ravens and Steelers. Finishing the year anything but 4-12 will be a major shock. Cleveland currently has a total of 44 loses since 2008.

29. (29) Jaguars (4-10) ‘€” Blaine Gabbert looked like a boy playing against men in the Jaguars’ latest lost. Gabbert has been a disappointment compared to his fellow starting rookie quarterbacks in the league. The uncertainty at head coach could be a factor. Even when Jack Del Rio was there it seemed like only a matter of time until he would get his walking papers and Mel Tucker is a defensive-minded coach.

30. (30) Vikings (2-12) ‘€” The Vikings are allowing an average of 29 points-per-game. For the third straight week, the defense allowed 30 or more points. Christan Ponder has also struggled lately. The rookie has thrown at least one interception in three consecutive games.

31. (31) Rams (2-12) ‘€” The beleaguered Rams offense is one of the worst in the league, averaging just 11.9 points-per-game. They rank 31st in third-down conversions and went just 2-13 in their latest loss.

32. (32) Colts (1-13) ‘€” The players and coaches are relieved they finally put a W in the win column, but now the Colts’ chances of getting the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft are in jeopardy. Indy has games against the Texans and Jaguars remaining. The Jaguars game is a very winnable matchup. Meanwhile, the Rams play the Steelers and 49ers.

Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

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