Antonio Brown and the Steelers have won six games in a row to claim the AFC North and are peaking at the right time
After 16 long weeks in the National Football League, we’re one final Sunday away from the playoffs and, for some teams, the merciful end of the 2016 season. While most of the league is pretty much locked into their spot in the standings, there was still a little bit of late movement over the holiday weekend.
With that in mind and factoring in everything from overall roster strength, to quarterback play, to the coaching staff, to injuries, here is the latest edition of NFL power rankings and where every team stacks up from 1 to 32.
Week 17 NFL Power Rankings
Last week: 1
Even with nothing to play for, Dallas looked the part of the NFC’s best against the very hungry Lions on Monday night. Now the only question left with this team is how much will Tony Romo play next week?
2. New England Patriots
Last week: 2
A ho-hum blowout of the Jets made for a nice weekend but probably not as nice as seeing all the other AFC playoff teams either struggle or lose their quarterback. At this point, only the Steelers may pose a problem for the heavy favorites on one side of the NFL bracket.
3. Green Bay Packers
Last week: 6
The hottest team in the league is certainly the one nobody wants to face, especially when Aaron Rodgers is firing on all cylinders. The defense didn’t show up with its best game against Minnesota over the weekend but didn’t exactly need to when the offense was humming like that.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Last week: 5
What a wild, wild season this has been for Atlanta but throttling the division rival Panthers and then somehow sliding into that No. 2 seed in the NFC has to be somewhat unfathomable for the Falcons faithful.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last week: 7
It wasn’t always pretty against the Ravens, but late-season AFC North battles rarely are. That’s six straight wins though and a likely seventh coming against Cleveland on New Year’s as Pittsburgh has turned into the AFC version of Green Bay.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
Last week: 9
It wasn’t just that the team knocked out the defending champs, but doing so by using a defensive tackle jump pass for one of the better twists of the knife in this long rivalry.
7. New York Giants
Last week: 4
At some point, everybody was expecting that close game magic to suddenly disappear and it did so at an inopportune time. That doesn’t sink the Giants but maybe the talk of channeling those Super Bowl teams was just a bit too early.
8. Oakland Raiders
Last week: 3
The Raiders had no issues with the Colts but saw laughter at the scoreboard turn to tears as Derek Carr went down with an awful injury. Now a dream season could end with a whimper as the offense turns to Matt McGloin and there may not be the joyful return to the postseason that Oakland had hoped for.
9. Seattle Seahawks
Last week: 8
Is there anybody that trusts this team in January? At the same time, even with inexplicable losses like to Arizona, is there anybody who wants to completely count them out next month?
10. Miami Dolphins
Last week: 14
It speaks to the incredible job that Adam Gase has done as a rookie head coach that the team has navigated the Ryan Tannehill injury so well and managed to secure a playoff berth in the process. That overtime win at Buffalo took some grit to pull out, even if things weren’t played all that sharply.
11. Detroit Lions
Last week: 10
Everything that could go wrong, pretty much did against Dallas on that disastrous Monday night game. Now the Lions have fallen from a potential first-round bye all the way down to a must-win against the hottest team in the league next week.
12. Baltimore Ravens
Last week: 12
It wasn’t the ending that Baltimore had in mind but that was still a solid showing against Pittsburgh for a team that has been flawed all year long but still playing above its weight. The offseason moves will be interesting because it’s clear the team needs a few more pieces.
13. Washington Redskins
Last week: 16
Nobody is cheering a blowout win over the Bears but there are still slim playoff hopes alive in Washington, which may be a much more interesting team in Week 17 to see how Kirk Cousins plays given the future decisions that need to be made on him.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last week: 11
Tampa Bay is still technically alive for a playoff berth but that loss to the Saints all but put the nail in the coffin for what was still a solid season.
15. Denver Broncos
Last week: 13
The lack of offense haunted this team all year long but the defensive effort in a do-or-die situation at Kansas City was really surprising on Sunday night.
16. Buffalo Bills
Last week: 17
If there were folks on the fence about the Rex Ryan era in Buffalo, those final few quarters against Miami probably pushed them off in the wrong direction for the head coach.
17. Houston Texans
Last week: 18
If needing a missed field goal to hold on against a bad team to win the division doesn’t sum up the AFC South, what does?
18. Tennessee Titans
Last week: 15
Seeing your division hopes come to an end at the hands of the lowly Jaguars and losing quarterback Marcus Mariota to a tough leg injury was the definition of adding insult to injury, NFL style. A couple of tough blows for a team that made a lot of strides in 2016.
19. Philadelphia Eagles
Last week: 21
The Carson Wentz Wagon has filled back up thanks to that Thursday night performance but it was more encouraging to see contributions from all over the roster. The return of tackle Lane Johnson produced a noticeable impact on offense and could be a promising sign for next week and beyond.
20. New Orleans Saints
Last week: 19
This is certainly a much better team when the offense — and Drew Brees in particular — is holding onto the ball and not gifting their opponent possessions. Now it will be interesting to see how hard this team fights to get to .500 next week.
21. Arizona Cardinals
Last week: 24
It’s been a very disappointing season out in the desert but the team has certainly played much better down the stretch and it paid off in a surprising win at Seattle. There may not be many bright spots in 2016 but snatching that one away from a division rival was probably worth a few smiles among the Cardinals.
22. Indianapolis Colts
Last week: 20
It was probably a little fitting that the team was essentially eliminated from the playoffs as a result of giving up five straight touchdown drives to all but put away that loss in Oakland. Now the attention in Indy turns to what, exactly, the front office is going to do next.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Last week: 22
As bad as that Sam Bradford trade looks now, it probably isn’t as surprising for Vikings fans as hearing those defensive backs say they went against the coaches’ game plan for covering Jordy Nelson — and promptly get roasted in the process.
24. Carolina Panthers
Last week: 23
The only thing entertaining about this team is seeing what outfit Cam Newton shows up in because there’s nothing nice about being 6-9 on the year.
25. Cincinnati Bengals
Last week: 27
Seemed pretty fitting, given the way things have played out in Cincinnati, that after playing a lackluster game against Houston the team would miss a field goal that would have given the Bengals the win. While fans may not have liked watching it, they may enjoy that kick come draft time.
26. Chicago Bears
Last week: 26
We can probably cool off that talk about Matt Barkley being anything more than the short-term starter at quarterback after tossing five interceptions but at least the continued play of Jordan Howard is worth watching until counting down the days until the team is on the clock.
27. San Diego Chargers
Last week: 25
Nobody wanted to be the team that gave up a win to Cleveland but here we are with the Chargers to dampen that final home game in San Diego even further.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last week: 29
Blake Bortles saved his best game of the season for the right moment as all that talk about his future heated up this week in Jacksonville. The question is how much that one solid performance will make a difference to the incoming regime.
29. New York Jets
Last week: 28
It is really hard to describe how miserable this season has been for the Jets but the fact that we still don’t know whether it is Christian Hackenberg starting at quarterback heading into that final game says plenty about this offense.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Last week: 31
A collective thank you must have been sent out to Chip Kelly for going for two and ending that awful football game against the Rams to snap a 13-game skid. The team seemed to lose by winning though as they likely cost themselves the No. 1 overall pick.
31. Los Angeles Rams
Last week: 30
As far as debuts go, this has been a miserable one in Los Angeles for the Rams and a terrible performance against the 49ers was the cherry on top.
32. Cleveland Browns
Last week: 32
That win against San Diego was one heck of a Christmas gift and truly the team’s Super Bowl. Even better: it didn’t cost them in terms of draft position and allowed the Browns to avoid that 0-16 record at the same time.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.