NFL Power Rankings, Week 16 edition

It was risky promoting Colin Kaepernick to starter, but the 49ers are riding the momentum all the way to the top of our power rankings.

1. 49ers (10-3-1): There are statement wins, then there are franchise-changing wins. The latter is what Colin Kaepernick and the Niners got last Sunday night over the Patriots. They could have easily crumbled on a rainy night in Foxboro. They didn’t. And the entire NFL is on notice.

2. Patriots (10-4): Was anyone surprised that Tom Brady guided a 28-point comeback? The way he was yelling at his troops and pumping his fist, Brady is already in playoff mode.

3. Texans (12-2): J.J. Watt only increased his MVP candidacy, finishing with three sacks, 10 tackles and a forced fumble in a must-win game. That’s how you answer your critics.

4. Broncos (11-3): Peyton Manning can smell blood in the water and he hasn’t lost since Oct. 7 — at New England, when the team was still adjusting to him. That Baltimore final was only close on paper.

5. Falcons (12-2): With all apologies to Asante Samuel, we’re not trying to hate by having Atlanta this low after a 34-0 win, it’s just too crowded at the top. Ask yourself this: would you take the Falcons over the four teams above them?

6. Packers (10-4): They put up 391 yards against one of the stingier defenses in football. Aaron Rodgers and Co. are starting to look eerily similar to that 2010 Super Bowl squad.

7. Seahawks (9-5): Pete Carroll thinks he’s back at USC, running up the score for BCS votes. Seahawks have outscored their opposition 108-17 in the past two weeks.

8. Ravens (9-5): The hits keep coming with Torrey Smith (concussion) possibly out. Terrible news for a team that can’t seem to find its early-season mojo.

9. Colts (9-5): Tough spot for Indy, which looked the part of a young, inexperienced team in a big December game. They’ll make the playoffs and they’ll bounce back. Trust us.

10. Redskins (8-6): Wait, Washington went two decades without a legit quarterback and now they might have two? The football gods work in mysterious ways.

11. Giants (8-6): The ultimate Jekyll and Hyde. They do the pummeling and then get pummeled. Still wouldn’t count them out to run the table and make a run.

12. Vikings (8-6): Here comes Adrian, here comes Adrian, right down Adrian’s lane. Vikings keep proving quarterbacks don’t matter in the NFL — ummm, say what?

13. Cowboys (8-6): Forget Tony Romo. Forget DeMarcus Ware. A healthy DeMarco Murray makes Dallas a suddenly dangerous out.

14. Bengals (8-6): Eagles gift-wrapped one for them, but they’ll take it. Andy Dalton needs to improve (13-of-27, 127 yards) for anyone to take them seriously.

15. Steelers (7-7): Usually one of the most disciplined teams in the league is having major issues — and Big Ben is openly questioning his offensive coordinator’s play-calling. Sell, sell, sell.

16. Bears (8-6): As Tom Petty famously crooned, “And I’m free … free falling.” Brandon Marshall was brought to tears after fifth loss in six tries. Sell, sell, sell here too.

17. Rams (6-7-1): Former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn’t look so bad now, does he?

18. Saints (6-8): Put 41 on the Bucs and get chance to play spoiler by going down to Big D and beating the Cowboys in what could be the Sean Payton Bowl.

19. Dolphins (6-8): Miami is still alive for a postseason berth if they win out. That, and they’ll need a meatball blizzard, a swarm of locusts and a Ricky Williams comeback, among other things.

20. Buccaneers (6-8): After Josh Freeman did his best Mark Sanchez impression (or vice versa?), Tampa is looking ahead to 2013.

And, with a slew of teams nobody cares about rounding out the rankings, we’re cutting it here. If you want to know who gets the first pick in the draft, it’s got to be those abysmal Kansas City Chiefs coming in at No. 32.

For the record, every team not listed in the Top 20 is having a serious discussion about their head coach. That means there could be a lot of job openings in 2013 — a lot.


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