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NFL Week 17 Power Rankings: Playoff positioning finally takes shape

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers made this week's biggest jump, up five spots fromGetty Images

1. New England Patriots (13-2) defeated New York Jets 41-3. Previously: 1

They may already have a first round bye, but the Patriots enter the final game of the season in Miami with much left to accomplish: A victory locks up home field advantage through the playoffs without waiting to see if Oakland will stumble against the Broncos, moves their road record in 2016 to 8-0, and would see them enter the playoffs on a seven game winning streak, the best in the NFL.

2. Dallas Cowboys (13-2) defeated Detroit 42-21. Previously: 2

Losing to the Giants for a second time hasn’t seemed to dampen Dallas’ season in the slightest. Instead, they’ve beaten two teams vying for playoff spots, Tampa Bay and Detroit, the latter while Dallas already had the top seed sewn up. They haven’t given any indication players will be rested in the season finale against Philadelphia either. If they win, it will be the first 14-win regular season in franchise history.

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3. Oakland Raiders (12-3) defeated Indianapolis 33-25. Previously: 3

It is incredibly unfortunate for Derek Carr’s MVP-caliber season to end the way it has. It included a franchise-record 513 yard performance, 28 touchdowns to just six interceptions and fell just 67 yards shy of the 4,000 yard mark. In the last four games, he had committed just one turnover. With one game left and anything from the No. 1 seed in the AFC to a wild-card spot on the table, the NFL’s third ranked offense hands the reigns to Matt McGloin, who went 1-5 in six starts for the Raiders in 2013, throwing eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) defeated Denver 33-10. Previously: 5

Sunday night’s trouncing of Denver ended the Broncos’ playoff hopes, gave Andy Reid his 183rd career win, good for a tie for tenth on the all-time list with Bill Parcells, and saw a rare offensive outburst. The Chiefs tied their season high for points scored (previously set in Week 1) with 33, and notch 454 offensive yards (they’re averaging 342) against the NFL’s sixth ranked defense. Having beaten Oakland twice this season, they can still win a tiebreaker and take the division, but they need a Raiders’ loss to help.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) defeated Baltimore 31-27. Previously: 10

After the victory over Baltimore, the Steelers have won the AFC North and are locked into the third seed in the AFC no matter what happens this weekend. Several players could see rest in order to get healthier before the playoffs start, and that could open the door for Cleveland’s second win in as many weeks. The Steelers do have the NFL’s longest winning streak at stake, currently winners of six straight, just like New England.

6. Atlanta Falcons (10-5) defeated Carolina 33-16. Previously: 6

The Falcons clinched the NFC South, and a victory over New Orleans Sunday would give them the second seed and a first round bye in the playoffs. Matt Ryan has had the best season of his career with a QB rating of 115.5 (his first over 100), 34 touchdowns, just seven interceptions and an astounding 9.3 yards per pass attempt. That’s a full yard more than the next player with at least 100 attempts (Tom Brady).

7. Green Bay Packers (9-6) defeated Minnesota 38-25. Previously: 9

The Packers have gone from 4-6, a team without a chance or a running back, to the favorites entering a home game where winner takes the division. They’ve won their last five games, and two of the most recent three were beatdowns of the Seahawks and Vikings by a combined total of 76-35. Aaron Rodgers has made his case for a third career MVP award very clear.

8. New York Giants (10-5) lost to Philadelphia 24-19. Previously: 4

Despite the Giants being locked into the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs, Eli Manning looks to start in the season finale against Washington. It is not a perfectly meaningless game, as the Giants can do their part to keep their divisional rival out of the postseason. No matter the surprising loss to the Eagles, with victories over the Cowboys and Lions in their last three games, New York isn’t a team anyone wants to face in the postseason.

10. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1) lost to Arizona 34-31. Previously: 7

No matter an 0-1-1 record against Arizona this season, Seattle has had their position as division champions settled for what feels like forever. Whether or not that made any complacency set in, the Seahawks have lost three of their last five games. But they still have a chance at the two seed with a win over the 49ers this weekend and an Atlanta loss.

11. Miami Dolphins (10-5) defeated Buffalo 34-31 (OT.) Previously: 12

The Dolphins have clinched the playoffs thanks to their dramatic win over the Bills and the Chiefs' not-so-down-to-the-wire victory over the Broncos. They could still reach the fifth seed with a win over the Patriots and a Chiefs loss to San Diego. Matt Moore is 2-0 with six touchdown passes in his two starts. Not too shabby. And then there’s Jay Ajayi’s perfectly timed re-emergence with his third 200 yard game of 2016 and an overtime rumble that pulled Miami into the playoffs.

9. Detroit Lions (9-6) lost to Dallas Cowboys 42-21. Previously: 8

It hasn’t been a fun last two weeks against the NFC East for Detroit. They’ve dropped two games to the Giants and Cowboys by a combined 59-27. Before that, they’d won five in a row. Now they’ve lost their shot at the second seed and a first round bye, but they’ll still be playing for the division title in Green Bay Sunday night. Earlier this season they lost 34-27 to the Packers.

12. Houston Texans (9-6) defeated Cincinnati 12-10. Previously: 15

The Texans are AFC South Champions and a victory over the Marcus Mariota-less Titans this week would see them enter the playoffs with an undefeated 6-0 division record and a four game win streak at their backs. Tom Savage will continue starting at quarterback, though the change up did nothing to jumpstart the Texans offense in Week 16, leaving them with just 12 points.

13. Washington (8-6-1) defeated Chicago 41-21. Previously: 18

A win against the Giants this weekend will clinch Washington’s playoff spot without the need for any other dominoes to fall, thanks to the Cowboys' victory over Detroit Monday night. Courtesy of their tie in London, Washington is assured a better record (pending victory) than any team that can finish 9-7 (meaning Tampa Bay, and the loser of Detroit vs. Green Bay.)

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7) lost to New Orleans 31-24. Previously: 14

Tampa Bay aren’t eliminated from the playoffs quite yet, and that puts them ahead of the rest of our 8-7 teams. Now, what exactly they need to happen to make the playoffs is for seven games to go their way this weekend. That includes a tie between the Giants and Washington, and for San Francisco to beat Seattle. You can decide for yourself which of those is less likely.

15. Baltimore Ravens (8-7) lost to Pittsburgh 31-27. Previously: 11

The Ravens are eliminated from the playoffs after letting the Steelers come back Christmas Day. The season ended in surprising fashion, as the defense that had been so strong allowed the Steelers to go 80 yards with minimal resistance, allowed the Eagles to do the same and almost win the week before, and allowed the Patriots 500 yards the preceding week.

16. Denver Broncos (8-7) lost to Kansas City 33-10. Previously: 16

It's been a long fall for the Broncos, and not just from the Super Bowl to missing the playoffs. This team was 7-3 and in full contention with the Chiefs and Raiders at mid-season, for all their faults. But the wheels have fallen completely off an offense that was always shaky, and now the defense has just allowed Kansas City their best game of the year.

17. Indianapolis Colts (7-8) lost to Oakland 33-25. Previously: 17

The Colts' season, realistically over when they lost to Houston two weeks ago, officially ended when the Texans beat Cincinnati and Indianapolis fell to the Raiders despite a comeback. A game against Jacksonville should give them a chance to end the season with three strong performances, and will let management continue to pretend the team is closer than it is.

18. Tennessee Titans (8-7) lost to Jacksonville 38-17. Previously: 13

What a bizarre way for the Titans' season to end. They were in trouble against Jacksonville long before Marcus Mariota left the game, and playing from behind never suited this team. Now this week’s potential division championship matchup against the Texans is only good for deciding second place between Tennessee and the Colts.

19. New Orleans Saints (7-8) defeated Tampa Bay 31-24. Previously: 22

Add New Orleans to the list of teams eager to crush other teams’ playoff dreams even if they can't realize their own. They seem destined to 7-9 or 8-8 purgatory for as long as the current iteration (that is, as long as Drew Brees and Sean Payton) hang on.

20. Buffalo Bills (7-8) lost to Miami 34-31 (OT.) Previously: 19

If Buffalo can't make it back to the playoffs (it's been 17 long seasons) they can at least relive playoff field goals wide right. And probably also beat the Jets. Most teams do.

21. Arizona Cardinals (6-8-1) defeated Seattle 34-31. Previously: 23

They won't be making the postseason, but the Cardinals seem determined not to let anyone create a firm opinion of them. This season they've beaten and tied Seattle, almost lost to the 49ers at home, and been smacked around by Buffalo and the Saints in as opposite a way as possible. It's been a long year.

22. Minnesota Vikings (7-8) lost to Green Bay 38-25. Previously: 20

If the Broncos are the most current example that a defense can't carry a team through a season on their own (and the Chiefs are the exception that proves the rule) the Vikings are Exhibit B. The most feared defense in the first half of the season has allowed 76 points in the last two games.

23. Philadelphia Eagles (6-9) defeated New York Giants 24-19. Previously: 25

The Eagles refuse to go quietly into the night despite having won just three of their last 12 games. Their victory over the Giants ensures they won't have a winless division record this season.

24. Carolina Panthers (6-9) lost to Atlanta 33-16. Previously: 21

Where was the Panthers team that played Washington this week? Inconsistency in everything except an inability to protect Cam Newton has been the theme to this Panthers season.

25. Cincinnati Bengals (5-9-1) lost to Houston 12-10. Previously: 24

After the Steelers beat Baltimore Sunday, the Bengals can't even affect the division race by beating (or even losing) to the Ravens this week.

26. San Diego Chargers (5-10) lost to Cleveland 20-17. Previously: 26

The Chargers know how hard it is to constantly lose hard-fought contests. Maybe that spurred the kindness of their Christmas Eve gift to the Browns.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) defeated Tennessee 38-17. Previously: 30

Where did that come from? In their first game without Gus Bradley at the helm, the Jaguars looked like the dangerous offense they were in 2015.

28. Chicago Bears (3-12) lost to Washington 41-21. Previously: 27

It started well, but eight interceptions over the last two games makes us think Matt Barkley has gotten just a bit carried away.

29. New York Jets (4-11) lost to New England 41-3. Previously: 29

Todd Bowles returned from the hospital Saturday to coach his Jets, but they look like the ones in desperate need of medical attention — at least a heartbeat.

30. San Francisco 49ers (2-13) defeated Los Angeles 22-21. Previously: 31

The Browns finally won, giving the 49ers a glimmer of hope for the first pick in the draft, but we suppose the chance to claim a sweep of your in-state rivals was just too much to pass up.

31. Los Angeles Rams (4-11) lost to San Francisco 22-21. Previously: 28

Bizarre to think the Rams won three games in a row after their season opening loss to San Francisco. However far they've come, they're right back where they started.

32. Cleveland Browns (1-14) defeated San Diego 20-17. Previously: 32

We wanted to move them up. We really, really did.

 
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