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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Preseason Edition 08.11.11 at 1:05 am ET
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Finally, football is here. The preseason kicks off Thursday, and what better way to roll in the 2011 season then with the first edition of WEEI’s NFL Power Rankings?

The lockout ended, the offseason began and chaos ensued. Many Pro Bowlers have changed teams. Guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith, Todd Heap and Olin Kreutz will spawn plenty of new jersey sales in their new locales. (Half of those guys signed with the Eagles alone.) A few more players are still looking for jobs, but most rosters have taken their primary shape. Some teams have improved, others … not so much.

Much can change over the next four weeks (injuries, cuts, trades, signings), but until then, check out where your team ranks. 

Green Bay Packers1. Packers (10-6) — The Packers won the Super Bowl last year, right? We haven’t heard a lot about the defending champs, and many believe they’re not even the best team in the NFC. However, the Packers have players like Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley returning to their championship roster and are clearly the favorites to start the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2. Steelers (12-4) — The defending AFC champions are returning many of their starters on both sides of the ball. Once again, they will have one of the best defenses in the league, as well as an offense filled with weapons.

New England Patriots 3. Patriots (14-2) — It’s tough not to love what the Patriots have done during the offseason. Bill Belichick‘s defense struggled at rushing the passer, was last in the league in getting off the field on third down and had plenty of trouble stopping teams in the red zone. Despite all of that, the Pats still posted a 14-2 record. The additions of Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter could turn the Pats D from one of the worst to one of the best in the league.

4. Eagles (10-6) — I’m still not sold on the “All-Hype Team,” as Rob Ryan likes to call the Eagles. The additions of defensive end Jason Babin and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha are huge, but the Eagles’ chances at a Super Bowl rely on the health and performance of Michael Vick. Toward the end of the season in 2010, Vick was obviously wearing down from the number of hits he had taken because of his style of play. The Eagles need to utilize the playmaking abilities of LeSean McCoy more this year to ensure a healthy Vick come playoff time.

New Orleans Saints5. Saints (11-5) — No doubt the Saints are motivated to get back to the Super Bowl. Led by Drew Brees, many Saints players participated in a six-week offseason program. The team also upgraded its run game with Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram.

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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:

New England Patriots 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.

Pittsburgh Steelers 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.

New Orleans Saints5. 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.

Green Bay Packers6. 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.

Chicago Bears7. 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.

New York Jets10. 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.

Kansas City Chiefs11. 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.

Seattle Seahawks12. 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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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 17 12.29.10 at 8:17 am ET
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The regular season is wrapping up, and for the first time this year, the Patriots are alone with the best record in the NFL. Tom Brady and his mistake-free Patriots are riding a seven-game winning streak and reside in the No. 1 spot in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings for the seventh straight week.

The Ravens fly north to the No. 2 spot which was previously occupied by the Falcons (5). The Saints (3) come marching into the top five after a Monday night win in Atlanta. Joining them among the league’s elite are the Steelers (4). They’ll need a win against the Browns to clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye.

Week 17 promises to be exciting, with many of the games having playoff implications. The Packers (8) will play the Bears (6) for a chance to secure the final wild card spot in the NFC. Meanwhile, the Giants (12) will play the Redskins (25) and hope the Packers lose for their opportunity to reach the playoffs. The Sunday night game features the Rams (17) and Seahawks (26) fighting for the NFC West crown.

New England Patriots 1. (1) 13-2 Home-field advantage is officially secured throughout the playoffs for the Patriots — giving them two weeks off from playing a meaningful game. The Pats will have the luxury of resting their starters Sunday if Bill Belichick chooses to do so. A well-rested, Belichick-coached, Brady-led Patriots team is a scary thing for any opponent that has to go into New England during the playoffs.

2. (4) 11-4 The Ravens are a Super Bowl contender for sure. They have veteran leadership on defense, have a great run game, and will go into the playoffs knowing they are the only team to beat a Brady-led Patriots team at Gillette Stadium during the postseason.

New Orleans Saints3. (7) 11-4 The defending Super Bowl champs will cruise into the playoffs with lots of momentum. The Saints have won seven of their last eight games and managed to give Matt Ryan just his second loss at home in three years. Drew Brees will have to protect the football better in the playoffs if the Saints want to have a real shot at reaching Dallas. Last year the veteran quarterback threw just 11 interceptions; he already has 21 in 2010.

Pittsburgh Steelers 4. (6) 11-4 The Steelers can clinch the AFC North and a first-round bye with a win against the Browns on Sunday. Don’t forget, Pittsburgh lost to Cleveland last year in December, preventing the Steelers from making the playoffs. You can be sure the Browns will be looking to beat their division rival again and knock them down a few seeds in the playoffs.

5. (2) 12-3 The NFC South title and the No. 1 seed in the conference can be wrapped up with a victory against the two-win Panthers on Sunday. The Falcons need to bounce back from their tough loss to the Saints. The reason why the Falcons have been so successful this year is because they protect the football and have a balanced offense. In Monday night’s loss they made a key turnover and had a lack of production from the run game.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 16 12.21.10 at 6:48 am ET
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The top two teams in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings are on the verge of clinching the No. 1 seed in their respective conference. The Patriots (1) and Falcons (2) are cruising through the regular season and are poising themselves for a playoff run. The Falcons will collide with their division rival New Orleans Saints (7) on Monday Night Football in Week 16.

Moving on up are the Eagles (3), the Ravens (4), and the Jets (5). All three of those teams were victorious against playoff caliber opponents over the weekend. Meanwhile, the G-Men fall to No. 10 after their giant collapse against the Eagles at home.

A playoff spot is on the line in the NFC West and no team in that division ranks higher than No. 21 in the rankings. The Rams (21), 49ers (24), and Seahawks (25) will battle it out over the next two weeks for the NFC West crown. It is impossible for any of those teams to have a record over .500.

New England Patriots 1. (1) 12-2 It wasn’t the prettiest victory but every year people say “Super Bowl caliber teams find ways to win games.” The most important quality about this team is that they continue to protect the football. The Patriots have nine total turnovers and a quarterback that hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 6. The three-time Super Bowl champs are one win away from locking up the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

2. (2) 12-2 Matt Ryan and the Falcons have won eight straight games and continue to play well in all areas of the game. They are extremely balanced on offense and do a great job creating turnovers on defense. The Falcons are one win away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

3. (5) 10-4 It doesn’t matter what the other team did to choke the game away, the Eagles came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter and found a way to win the game. This win will certainly be a momentum booster as Mike Vick and the Eagles soar into the playoffs . I think it’s safe to say that no team in the NFC will want to face them in the playoffs.

4. (6) 10-4 Ray Rice proved that the Ravens offensive game plan should go through him. The third-year running back had 153 yards on the ground and 80 yards receiving. The Ravens will certainly have to rely on Rice going forward into the playoffs. After a mediocre performance last week on defense, they were able to get solid pressure on Drew Brees and force a key interception late in the fourth-quarter.

New York Jets5. (8) 10-4 Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense returned against one of the best defenses in the game. The Jets scored their first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters. What was also impressive was the way the Jets defense stepped up during the closing seconds of the game and stopped the Steelers from scoring a touchdown. This was a quality win on the road from the Jets.

Pittsburgh Steelers 6. (3) 10-4 The Steelers D needs Troy Polamalu on the field to be be the dominating defense we’re all accustomed to seeing. The defensive unit looks completely different without No. 43 patrolling the secondary.  Luckily for the Steelers, they can afford to let Polamalu rest up for the playoffs if they choose to do so. Their final two games are against two last place teams, the Panthers and the Browns.

New Orleans Saints7. (4) 10-4 Defending the Vince Lombardi trophy will certainly be a lot harder now that the division seems almost impossible for the Saints to win. The Saints will most likely have to play on the road during the playoffs.

Chicago Bears8. (10) 10-4 The NFC North champions now turn their focus on getting the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. If the Bears win their remaining two games against the Jets and Packers, they will have that opportunity.

9. (9) 8-6 The Chargers are rolling– they’ve won six of their last seven games. The pass rush has stepped up in a huge way. In their latest win, the Chargers D sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith six times.

10. (7) 9-5 Giants players and coaches need to put their heartbreaking loss behind them or they might not even make the playoffs. The Giants have an extremely big game against the Packers this Sunday and playoff implications are on the line. Defensively, they’ve played well against Michael Vick and need to use the potential of getting another shot at the Eagles in the playoffs as motivation.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 15 12.14.10 at 8:05 am ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots sit atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings for the fifth straight week. After another dominating performance against a nine-win team, the Patriots are clearly the best team in football fourteen weeks into the season. The Falcons are at No. 2 for a second straight week and share the best record in the NFL with New England.

Week 15 will bring many key matchups that will have serious playoff implications. The Jaguars (12) will travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts (13) in a battle for the AFC South. The Giants (7) will get their rematch against the Eagles (5) and will fight for sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

The Packers (11) and Chiefs (14) both dropped after losses and uncertainity at the quarterback position. Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot but are also dealing with injuries to their starting QB.

New England Patriots 1. (1) 11-2 The Patriots have wins against almost every team in playoff contention in the AFC. The Ravens, Chargers, Steelers, Colts, and Jets have all tasted defeat at the hands of Tom Brady and the Pats. In the last two weeks, against nine-win teams, the Patriots have outscored their opponent 81-10. Bill Belichick’s team also has not turned the ball over in five straight games. If the above doesn’t sound like a Super Bowl caliber team, I don’t know what does.

2. (2) 11-2 Offensively, the Falcons can beat teams with the run or the pass. Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White are consistently putting up big numbers. Ryan has over 3,000 yards passing, Turner has over 1,100 yards rushing, and Roddy White has over 1,200 yards receiving.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3. (3) 10-3 Teams can not run against Pittsburgh. The Steelers are ranked first in the league in run defense; they allow 60 yards per-game on average. One concern for the Steelers should be the health of Ben Roethlisberger. “Big Ben” has been taking a beating back in the pocket. His offensive line needs to protect its quarterback a lot better.

New Orleans Saints4. (4) 10-3 The Saints offense is clicking. They’ve put up 30 or more points in five straight games.  Perhaps, their biggest test of the season so far will come this Sunday against the Ravens in Baltimore. The Saints will need to win and extend their six-game winning streak if they want to have a realistic chance of winning the NFC South.

5. (8) 9-4 The Vick-McCoy-Jackson combination can take the Eagles all the way to the Super Bowl. That’s of course if they can keep Michael Vick healthy. The 30-year-old quarterback continually gets nailed by opposing defenders.

6. (5) 8-4 The Ravens should be concerned about their defense giving up 21-straight points in the second half and how tired they looked late in the fourth quarter.

7. (10) 9-4 The Giants last loss came against the Eagles in Philadelphia. This Sunday they’ll be looking for revenge at home. The last time these two teams met, the G-Men defended Michael Vick well but beat themselves with five turnovers. If they can protect the ball, the Giants may find themselves sitting atop the NFC East when Week 15 is in the books.

New York Jets8. (6) 9-4 It just may be time to push the panic button in New York. Rex Ryan’s second-year quarterback, Mark Sanchez, has turned the ball over in nine straight games. Meanwhile, the Jets receivers continue to drop passes in key moments. Looking ahead, the Jets have two very tough matchups in the next two weeks. They travel to Pittsburgh and then to Chicago.

9. (12) 7-6 The Chargers have a “cupcake” regular season schedule remaining. They are playing teams with a combined record of 10-29. The “Super” Chargers have a strong possibility of finishing the year 10-6.

Chicago Bears10. (7) 9-4 The Bears were outmatched and embarrassed at home last Sunday against the Patriots. They played horrible on both sides of the football. Luckily for them, they still have two games against divisional opponents and are able to control their own destiny.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 14 12.08.10 at 10:01 am ET
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For the fourth straight week, the Patriots rule in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Pats’ 45-3 clobbering of the Jets makes Bill Belichick‘s team the clear-cut favorite for the No. 1 spot. Soaring not far behind are the Falcons at No. 2. The Patriots will defend their top spot against the Bears (7) in Chicago this Sunday while the Falcons have the pleasure of traveling to North Carolina to take on the Panthers (32).

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (3)  jump back into the top five after their huge road win against the Ravens (5).  Marching in at No. 4 are the defending champion Saints.

The Colts have lost four of their last five games and continue to take a nose-dive in the rankings. Their only win in that stretch came against the 2-10 Bengals (31). Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champions drop to 14.

The bottom seven teams remain the same as all of them suffered another loss in Week 13.

New England Patriots 1. (1) 10-2 The Patriots are in first place because they continue to win the turnover battle. Tom Brady hasn’t thrown an interception in his last seven games. The Pats are also atop their conference with a plus-14 in the giveaway/takeaway differential category. If the Pats can lock up home-field advantage and a first-round bye, it’s tough not to like their chances of reaching yet another Super Bowl. The Brady-Belichick combination is just too difficult to beat when playing in Foxboro during the playoffs.

2. (3) 10-2 Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to six fourth-quarter comeback drives. The Falcons have one of the most balanced offensive game plans in football. They can run and pass the ball effectively. Two of their remaining four games are against the 1-11 Panthers. That makes the Falcons’ chances of winning the NFC and gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs very good.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3. (6) 9-3 The offensive line is in shambles. The latest injury for the Steelers comes to starting right tackle Flozell Adams. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday night’s slugfest against the Ravens. Roethlisberger needs better protection if the Steelers want to go deep into the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints4. (5) 9-3 The defending champs have won five straight games and are in a race for the NFC South division. They’ll also be adding more firepower to their offense. Pierre Thomas is set to return after suffering an injury in the first month of the season.

5. (4) 8-4 The Ravens crumpled in the fourth quarter and gave up 10 unanswered points to the Steelers. The loss to Pittsburgh puts them in a tough position going forward as they will likely have to settle for a wild card playoff spot.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 13 11.30.10 at 7:08 am ET
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The battle for the AFC East title and the No. 1 spot in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings will be on the line in Week 13 at Gillette Stadium. For the third straight week, the Patriots (No.1), the Jets (No. 2), and the Falcons (No. 3) control the top three spots. That will surely change next week after the Pats and Jets collide. Tom Brady will be trying to break Brett Favre’s consecutive regular season home-game winning streak while the Jets will fight to stay unbeaten on the road.

The AFC East won’t be the only division up for grabs in Week 13. The Ravens (No. 4) and the Steelers (No. 6) will face off in a showdown themselves. The winning team will be in the driver’s seat to take the division and have a first-round playoff bye.

Continuing to climb are the Chargers (No. 9). There is something about the second-half of the season that flips a switch for Philip Rivers and crew. The “Super Chargers” have rattled off four straight wins.

Down in the bottom of the barrel, the last five teams have a new member. The embattled Denver Broncos come crashing down to No. 28.

New England Patriots 1. (1) 9-2 The Patriots have scored more points this season than any other team in the NFL. Tom Brady and the offense are ranked third in the league after completing 45 percent of their third-down conversions. On the other side of the ball, Bill Belichick should be concerned about the amount of yards his defense has given up. The Patriots rank 31st in the NFL in total yards allowed. This team has relied on their ability to force turnovers. Their 15 interceptions lead the AFC.

New York Jets2. (2) 9-2 Every good team must win on the road and the Jets certainly know how to do that. Dating back to last year, the Jets have won eight in a row on the road. Their most difficult task away from the Meadowlands will come this Monday night in Foxboro. Mark Sanchez has thrown an interception in six straight games after throwing none in the first five games of the season. Sanchez will have to protect the football against a very opportunistic Patriots defense if he wants to give his team a chance to win.

3. (3) 9-2 Matt Ryan is quickly becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The BC alum has five game-winning drives this season. He’s also an extremely accurate passer and has only been intercepted five times. The Falcons are in a prime position to take the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If they can lock up home-field advantage in the playoffs, they’ll be the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Ryan is 19-1 inside the Georgia Dome.

4. (5) 8-3 The Ravens are entering the last month of the season playing extremely well on defense. They’ve given up 23-total points in their last two games. Ray Lewis and crew must take that momentum into their AFC North game against the Steelers this Sunday.

New Orleans Saints5. (8) 8-3 The defending Super Bowl champs were successful last year because they caused turnovers in key moments of the game. On Thanksgiving, we saw the Saints once again make a turnover to save a game. This team plays smart football and is well coached. That’s just one of the reasons they’ll be extremely difficult to beat in the playoffs.

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