NFL power rankings, Week 17: Falcons back on top

USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another change atop the power rankings.

There is one more week of games left to go in the regular season. Most people are fine with that, except for Roger Goodell's imaginary fans that keep insisting on an 18-game season. At this point, you're either ready for your team to get on with its Super Bowl pursuit, or waiting for the owner to send out pink slips to celebrate the New Year.

Atlanta tops this week's power rankings. I suspect there are a few who would argue about that. They are haters, pure and simple. Denver looks like the best team in the AFC right now, coming off 10 wins in a row. The real story is in Seattle, where the Seahawks administered yet another thrashing of an opponent. It was no patsy either: Pete Carroll sent Jim Harbaugh honking his way back to the Bay Area to lick his wounds.


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1. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 2, 13-2): It's time to pay the Falcons some respect, not that we've shied away from that here at SB Nation. Atlanta throttled the Giants a week ago and made short work of the Lions this week. The Super Bowl goes through the ATL, and the Lombardi Trophy has as good of a chance to end up there in February.

2. Denver Broncos (LW: 1, 12-3): Winning 10 games in a row is impressive, even if only two of those teams had a winning record. I get the sneaking feeling we're headed toward another Brady-Manning showdown in the AFC.

3. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 7, 10-5): Are you convinced yet? The arse-whipping handed to Honking Jim Harbaugh on Sunday night did it for me. I would have liked to have seen Seattle with some tougher road games in the second half of the season, just so we know more about them.

4. New England Patriots (LW: 5, 11-4): A loss to the 49ers followed by a scare from the Jaguars ... either the Patriots are asleep at the wheel or showing signs of trouble.

5. Green Bay Packers (LW: 6, 11-4): Raise your hand if you wondered about the Packers earlier in the season. It's okay, I did too. Now Aaron Rodgers and Co. look primed for a deep run into the playoffs.

6. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 3, 10-4-1): How funny is it that a tie against the Rams is San Francisco's chief buffer against Seattle? Last season and through the first part of this one, the 49ers' 12th man was a remarkable ability to stay healthy. That's not the case now, and seeing names like Justin Smith and Vernon Davis on the injury report is a big concern.

7. Houston Texans (LW: 4, 12-3): Do you still think the Texans would beat the Broncos in Denver, like they did in Week 3? I don't.

8. Washington Redskins (LW: 8, 9-6): All he does is win. RGIII, that is.

9. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 9, 10-5): Novel idea — hand the ball to Ray Rice. You don't have to be Jim Caldwell to figure that one out, but it did take him a week to do so. Beating the Giants this week should have reassured the Ravens faithful.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 13, 9-6): The Bengals lack consistency, the kind of consistency that you see from the league's double-digit winning teams. Nevertheless, beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh looks to me like a team that's getting over the hump.


Previous Power Rankings: Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16


11. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 14, 9-6): Beating the Texans, with Adrian Peterson held to fewer than 100 yards, no less, is not getting the attention it deserves.

12. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 10, 10-5): Another comeback win for Andrew Luck, but this one came against the Chiefs.

13. Chicago Bears (LW: 15, 9-6): Nothing like a game against the Cardinals right when a team's in danger of dropping out of the playoff race completely. The best news for the Bears is that the stifling defense was back this week. Chicago is going to need that to push its way back into the postseason conversation.

14. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 12, 8-7): What a way to lose. Now, Dallas has to go to Washington in primetime next week for a do-or-die game against the Redskins. But Jason Garrett is not the problem, and neither is Rob Ryan, you guys.

15. New York Giants (LW: 11, 8-7): The fall is almost complete. New York still has a chance to back into the playoffs, but it requires a handful of other teams to lose next week. You deserved better than this, Mr. Big Wheel.

16. New Orleans Saints (LW: 17, 7-8): Really, seven wins is a nice bounce back for a team that lost its first four games, including one to the Chiefs. The Saints play Carolina next week with a chance to wrap up the season at .500.

17. St. Louis Rams (LW: 20, 7-7-1): The Rams never win pretty, partly because the offense moves in fits and starts and usually doesn't move at all until the second half of games. Jeff Fisher has this team with a chance to finish the season above .500 for the first time since 2003. Now that's change you can believe in.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 16, 7-8): Mike Tomlin fired Bruce Arians and replaced him with Todd Haley. Whoops.

19. Miami Dolphins (LW: 19, 7-8): This defense isn't getting enough credit. You know who else isn't getting enough credit? Ryan Tannehill. Not every rookie quarterback can be some option-running stud.

20. Carolina Panthers (LW: 21, 6-9): Cam Newton' stats are not far off his rookie mark. He's thrown fewer interceptions, is on pace for the same number of touchdowns, and he's rushing at almost exactly the same clip. Anyone who tells you he's in a sophomore slump is lazy. It's not his fault he can't play defense or improve his coaching staff.

21. Cleveland Browns (LW: 21, 5-10): So much for all the experience an elderly Brandon Weeden was supposed to give this team. The most frustrating thing here is that the roster really does have talent, more than enough to stave off the team's fifth straight season of double-digit losses. Jimmy Haslam can't blow this up soon enough.


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22. San Diego Chargers (LW: 26, 6-9): This was the most predictable week yet in the NFL. San Diego was the only team in the bottom third of these rankings to win, but that was kind of predictable, too. Norv Turner winning meaningless games is another sure sign that December is here.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 22, 6-9): The Bucs spent big on free agents and brought in a tough-as-nails head coach. Good thing the Glazers have a soccer team they care about more.

24. Buffalo Bills (LW: 23, 5-10): I thought that Mario Williams would be the best free agent move of the year. How wrong I was. Will Chan Gailey survive as head coach?

25. New York Jets (LW: 24, 6-9): The Jets allowed 11 sacks this week, but they did discover that wide receiver Jeremy Kerley is the best quarterback on the roster.

26. Tennessee Titans (LW: 25, 5-10): Think Bud Adams misses Jeff Fisher?

27. Detroit Lions (LW: 27, 4-11): At least Detroit fans have Calvin Johnson's record and memories of last year's playoff appearance to keep them hopeful. This team has too much talent to stink this much next season. Something has to change, but what?

28. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 30, 4-11): The Eagles have actually played marginally better in the last month. Like the Lions, this should be a quick turnaround project for whoever replaces Andy Reid.

29. Oakland Raiders (LW: 28, 4-11): The Raiders beat the Chiefs twice and the Jaguars once this season. The other win came against the Steelers in Week 3.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 31, 2-13): Let's give the Jags a little credit for catching the Patriots napping this week. Tim Tebow is totally going to steal a few more games for them next season, right?

31. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 29, 5-10): Is that four quarterbacks the Cardinals have trotted out this season? I've lost count. The Cardinals used their first-round pick on wide receiver Michael Floyd, rather than an offensive lineman. One more week, Cardinal fans, until the front office is gutted ... you hope.

32. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 32, 2-13): Is Geno Smith the answer? Not unless it includes a new coach and general manager.

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