Playoff seeds reflected in Week 17 NFL Power Rankings

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) congratulates Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) after a touchdown in the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

It's not coincidence that the top 12 teams in the final rankings for the NFL regular season are the same 12 to make the playoffs. There have been plenty of teams in years past that have either made the playoffs at the expense of a better team or missed the playoffs because they played in a stronger division. That's not the case this year. The best teams in the NFL are far and away the best. There's not a lot of difference between the top 12, but it's hard to envision any of them losing to teams outside the playoffs right now. We saw that with how many meaningless games there were on the final Sunday.

So now, with the playoffs approaching, we see how the rebuilding teams of last season are suddenly among the top 12. The Colts, Vikings and Redskins combined to win 11 games last season. That number was 31 this season, as all experienced sharp turnarounds to get to the playoffs. That's good news for the Eagles and other teams eliminated from playoff contention long ago. Teams don't generally gradually improve in the NFL - they get good in a hurry, provided the right set of factors come together. The keys for the Eagles will be to find a quarterback, hire a head coach that is motivated and to capitalize on what should be a soft schedule. These, combined with a good draft, can put them right back into the playoffs.

Coming up: Who splurged on Black Monday? Did the Packers hurt their chances at another Super Bowl by losing out on a first-round bye? And which teams are climbing all over themselves to hire Andy Reid, as the national media had said would happen if and when the Eagles fired him?

1. Denver (13-3); Last week: 1
Week 17 result: Won vs. Kansas City, 38-3
The Broncos wrapped up the top seed in the AFC with their 11th, and possibly easiest, win of the season. Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes, two to Eric Decker, who finished with 13 scores on the season, and Denver limited Kansas City to just 119 total yards and sacked Brady Quinn four times. The Broncos will host a divisional round game after their first-round bye.
Next up: No. 1 seed in the AFC; Wild-card round bye

2. New England (12-4); Last week: 3
Week 17 result: Won vs. Miami, 28-0
A shutout win over their division rival gave the Patriots a week off heading into the playoffs. Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, one to Wes Welker, who almost gave us a butt interception, and Stevan Ridley ran for two touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski scored New England’s final touchdown in his first game back after breaking his arm. The Patriots will host a divisional round game after their first-round bye.
Next up: No. 2 seed in the AFC; Wild-card round bye


Can Andy Reid turn the Arizona Cardinals around?

3. Atlanta (13-3); Last week: 2
Week 17 result: Lost vs. Tampa Bay, 22-17
Having clinched a first-round bye and the top seed in the NFC, the Falcons had little use for their Week 17 matchup with the Buccaneers. Even with that, Matt Ryan played the whole game for some reason, throwing a total of 44 times for 238 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons will host a divisional round game after their first-round bye.
Next up: No. 1 seed in the NFC; Wild-card round bye

4. Green Bay (12-4); Last week: 4
Week 17 result: Lost at Minnesota, 37-34
The Packers lost their final game of the season and, coupled with the 49ers’ win, a first-round bye. Aaron Rodgers threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns but Green Bay’s defense allowed Adrian Peterson to run for 199 yards and a touchdown and, even more egregiously, allowed Christian Ponder to throw three touchdown passes. The Packers will host these same Vikings at Lambeau Field on Saturday night.
Next up: No. 3 seed in NFC; vs. Minnesota

5. Seattle (11-5); Last week: 5
Week 17 result: Won vs. St. Louis, 20-13
Marshawn Lynch reached 100 rushing yards for the fourth-straight game and finished third in the league in rushing with 1,590 yards. Russell Wilson threw for one touchdown and ran for another. Seattle won for the seventh time in eight games and finished undefeated at home. The Seahawks will visit the Redskins in the late afternoon wild-card game Sunday.
Next up: No. 5 seed in NFC; at Washington

6. San Francisco (11-4-1); Last week: 7
Week 17 result: Won vs. Arizona, 27-13
Thanks to a win over the Cardinals and a Packers loss, the 49ers earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Michael Crabtree had 172 yards on eight catches and scored twice and Frank Gore added a rushing touchdown. Meanwhile, David Akers missed two field goals against the Cardinals and seven of his last 18 field goal attempts overall, prompting the signing of Billy Cundiff. San Francisco will host a divisional round game after the first-round bye.
Next up: No. 2 seed in NFC; A wild-card round bye

7. Washington (10-6); Last week: 8
Week 17 result: Won vs. Dallas, 28-18
In a win-and-in game against the Cowboys, the Redskins clinched their first playoff berth since 2007 and won the NFC East for the first time since 1999. Alfred Morris ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns, finishing second in the NFL in rushing with 1,613 yards. The Redskins will host the Seahawks in the late afternoon game Sunday. Oddly, this will be the third time in Washington’s last four playoff games that they have faced Seattle.
Next up: No. 4 seed in NFC; vs. Seattle

8. Houston (12-4); Last week: 6
Week 17 result: Lost at Indianapolis, 28-16
Whoops. In two weeks, the Texans has gone from the probable top seed in the AFC to having to host a wild-card playoff game. Matt Schaub failed to throw a touchdown pass and was picked off twice. Houston allowed a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown after taking the lead for the first time in the third quarter. The Texans will host the Bengals Saturday afternoon.
Next up: No. 3 seed in AFC; vs. Cincinnati

9. Minnesota (10-6); Last week: 10
Week 17 result: Won vs. Green Bay, 37-34
Adrian Peterson finished NINE YARDS short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record. If he had scored on his run that put the Vikings in easy field-goal position for the game-winning kick, Peterson would have broken the record by two yards. Also, this game was pretty great. Peterson finished with 199 yards and 2,097 for the season. Minnesota clinched the final playoff spot in the NFC and will visit the Packers in a wild-card matchup Saturday night.
Next up: No. 6 seed in the NFC; at Green Bay

10. Indianapolis (11-5); Last week: 11
Week 17 result: Won vs. Houston, 28-16
In Chuck Pagano’s return to the sidelines, the Colts beat the Texans for their 11th win, capping off a remarkable season that saw them best their 2011 record by nine wins. Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes and Vick Ballard ran for another, but the winning score was provided by Deji Karim’s 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Colts will visit the Ravens in the early game Sunday.
Next up: No. 5 seed in the AFC; at Baltimore

11. Baltimore (10-6); Last week: 9
Week 17 result: Lost at Cincinnati, 23-17
Joe Flacco and Ray Rice played only two series before retiring for the day, as the Ravens were locked into the fourth seed in the AFC. Anthony Allen and Tyrod Taylor scored rushing touchdowns in Flacco and Rice’s stead. It was Baltimore’s fourth loss in five games. The Ravens will host the Colts in the early game Sunday.
Next up: No. 4 seed in the AFC; vs. Indianapolis

12. Cincinnati (10-6); Last week: 13
Week 17 result: Won vs. Baltimore, 23-17
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green only played the first half against the Ravens as the Bengals prepare for their second straight playoff appearance. Dalton threw a touchdown pass before departing and Carlos Dunlap returned an interception for a touchdown for the winning points. In consecutive weeks, Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore after an 0-6 run against the two teams, and has won seven of its last eight. Just like last season, the Bengals will visit the Texans in the first round of the playoffs.
Next up: No. 6 seed in the AFC; at Houston

13. New York Giants (9-7); Last week: 15
Week 17 result: Won vs. Philadelphia, 42-7
The Giants whipped the Eagles but missed the playoffs after the Bears and Vikings won. Very sad. Eli Manning threw five touchdown passes on just 21 attempts, two to Rueben Randle, and Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Next up: Offseason

14. Chicago (10-6); Last week: 13
Week 17 result: Won at Detroit, 26-24
With a shot to make the playoffs, the Bears survived a late push by the Lions to keep their playoff hopes alive until the Vikings defeated the Packers. Jay Cutler threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett, Matt Forte scored a rushing touchdown and Olindo Mare kicked four field goals in the win. In the end, it was too late for the Bears, as their slide from 7-1 to out of the playoffs cost Lovie Smith his job.
Next up: Offseason

15. Dallas (8-8); Last week: 14
Week 17 result: Lost at Washington, 28-18
The Cowboys went into Washington with the ability to win the NFC East. Unfortunately, they brought Tony Romo and his ability to kill seasons with bad interceptions with them. Romo threw three interceptions total and Dallas’ defense allowed the Redskins to rush for 274 yards and four touchdowns. The Cowboys could part with Romo and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan in the offseason, but head coach Jason Garrett is expected to return.
Next up: Offseason

16. Carolina (7-9); Last week: 17
Week 17 result: Won at New Orleans, 44-38
Nice little run for the Panthers at the end of the season, winning five of their last six games. Carolina rushed for 273 yards to New Orleans’ 63, 210 of which came from DeAngelo Williams. Williams ran for touchdowns of 54 and 12 yards and Mike Tolbert rushed for three short scores as the Panthers put up 44 points without the help of a passing touchdown. Whether it was good enough for Ron Rivera to keep his job remains to be seen.
Next up: Offseason

17. Pittsburgh (8-8); Last week: 18
Week 17 result: Won vs. Cleveland, 24-10
Facing someone named Thad Lewis in their season finale, the Steelers forced four turnovers and got three passing touchdowns from Ben Roethlisberger as they avenged a Week 12 loss in Cleveland. Pittsburgh won just two of their final seven games and finished with their worst record since 2006, when they were also 8-8.
Next up: Offseason

18. New Orleans (7-9); Last week: 16
Week 17 result: Lost vs. Carolina, 44-38
The Saints might have made the playoffs if not for the suspensions of Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma, but they still would have owned a defense that was among the worst in every category imaginable. Against the Panthers, the bottom-ranked rushing defense allowed 273 yards. Drew Brees threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns, finishing with an NFL-best 43 on the season. New Orleans finished just 4-4 at home.
Next up: Offseason

19. St. Louis (7-8-1); Last week: 19
Week 17 result: Lost at Seattle, 20-13
In Seattle, the Rams hung with the Seahawks for much of the game, but a late Russell Wilson touchdown run and Sam Bradford’s game-ending interception ended any hopes of an upset. The Rams could not avoid finishing with a losing record for the sixth-straight season. St. Louis hasn’t finished above .500 since 2003.
Next up: Offseason

20. San Diego (7-9); Last week: 21
Week 17 result: Won vs. Oakland, 24-21
In Norv Turner’s last game as head coach, the Chargers got a kickoff return for a touchdown by Micheal Spurlock to open the game and two passing touchdowns from Philip Rivers. San Diego will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Next up: Offseason

21. Tampa Bay (7-9); Last week: 23
Week 17 result: Won at Atlanta, 22-17
The Buccaneers enjoyed a stretch in the middle of the season where Josh Freeman and the offense looked unstoppable. That came to an end in Week 12, sparking the five-game losing streak that was snapped in the meaningless win over the Falcons. Doug Martin rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown in the win.
Next up: Offseason

22. Miami (7-9); Last week: 20
Week 17 result: Lost at New England, 28-0
The Dolphins probably have no idea what they have in Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked seven times and threw an interception against the Patriots. Miami finished 26th in the NFL in passing yards per game and Tannehill threw just 12 touchdown passes, but he had little to work with besides Reggie Bush and a few huge performances by Brian Hartline.
Next up: Offseason

23. Cleveland (5-11); Last week: 22
Week 17 result: Lost at Pittsburgh, 24-10
Injuries to Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy forced the Browns to start Thad Lewis in their season finale. Lewis threw for 204 yards and a touchdown, but the Browns couldn’t muster more than ten points despite a 320-212 yards advantage. With Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert gone, Cleveland should enter next season with a much different makeup.
Next up: Offseason

24. Buffalo (6-10); Last week: 29
Week 17 result: Won vs. New York Jets, 28-9
The Bills’ defense forced two turnovers, one of which an interception that Bryan Scott returned for a touchdown, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass and Brad Smith and Tashard Choice each ran for a touchdown in Buffalo’s comfortable win over the New York Jets. After finishing 6-10, Chan Gailey was fired.
Next up: Offseason

25. Tennessee (6-10); Last week: 28
Week 17 result: Won vs. Jacksonville, 38-20
In yet another meaningless end-of-season game, the Titans beat the Jaguars despite being outgained 375-221. Tennessee got two touchdowns (both scored by Zach Brown) off three interceptions and two more off Darius Reynaud punt returns in a game where Jake Locker completed just nine passes for 152 yards.
Next up: Offseason

26. Arizona (5-11); Last week: 26
Week 17 result: Lost at San Francisco, 27-13
The Cardinals lost their 11th game of 12 against the 49ers. Brian Hoyer became the fourth quarterback to start for the Cardinals this season and proved capable enough to keep Arizona in the game for three quarters. Hoyer threw for a score late in the game to end a dubious streak of six games without a touchdown pass. Ken Whisenhunt was fired Monday, and now Arizona is rumored to be pursuing Andy Reid. He’s going to fix Kevin Kolb!
Next up: Offseason

27. Detroit (4-12); Last week: 27
Week 17 result: Lost vs. Chicago, 26-24
The Lions started 1-3, improved to 4-4, then lost eight straight. Detroit fell behind early against Chicago and got to within two points before the Bears iced the game. Matthew Stafford set the single-season record for passing attempts with 727, likely a product of a defense that allowed no fewer than 24 points in the final eight games. Will Jim Schwartz survive that losing streak?
Next up: Offseason

28. Oakland (4-12); Last week: 24
Week 17 result: Lost at San Diego, 24-21
Terrelle Pryor got the start in Oakland’s final game because, why not? Pryor completed just 13/28 passes but threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. The Raiders have not had a winning season since 2002.
Next up: Offseason

29. New York Jets (6-10); Last week: 25
Week 17 result: Lost at Buffalo, 28-9
Mark Sanchez couldn’t muster a touchdown and was picked off once in what might have been his final start with the Jets. New York managed just three Nick Folk field goals and didn’t score in the second half. General manager Mike Tannenbaum was fired, but Rex Ryan will likely stay.
Next up: Offseason

30. Philadelphia (4-12); Last week: 30
Week 17 result: Lost at New York Giants, 42-7
The season is mercifully over, and Andy Reid is mercifully done as Eagles coach. Overall, it was fun while it lasted, but it’s time to move on, and probably was two years ago. Where will the Eagles go from here? They’ll have plenty of options, but it’s safe to say none of them should be coaching Nnamdi Asomugha in Philadelphia next year. Let the roster dissection begin.
Next up: Offseason

31. Jacksonville (2-14); Last week: 31
Week 17 result: Lost at Tennessee, 38-20
With or without Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars likely would have wound up here. They were without their best player Maurice Jones-Drew for most of the season (though he still led the team in rushing) and struggled to score points and stop other teams from scoring. Jacksonville lost five straight to close out the season. Will it cost Mike Mularkey his job? With a new GM coming in, probably.
Next up: Offseason

32. Kansas City (2-14); Last week: 32
Week 17 result: Lost at Denver, 38-3
Brady Quinn had 49 passing yards as Kansas City ended their last-place season meekly. The Chiefs desperately need a quarterback. Will they reach for one with the No. 1 pick? For their sake, let’s hope not. Either way, Romeo Crennel won’t be there to coach the first pick.
Next up: Offseason