Week 16 NFL power rankings: Seahawks take top spot, Broncos drop

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Pete Carroll's team is the king of the NFL in the season's final month.

With just two weeks left to go, the NFC retakes the top spot in your mid-December power rankings.

1. Seattle Seahawks

Current Playoff Projection: NFC #1 seed (NFC West champ)

The Legion of Boom is currently truncated without Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner. It was more the enough to coax a legion of boo's from Giants fans as they bagged a hilarious FIVE interceptions from Eli Manning. Marshawn Lynch's receiving day would have garnered more notice had Jamaal Charles not spent Sunday nuking the Raiders from orbit, but Lynch-as-leading-receiver and Russell Wilson-as-leading-rusher highlighted the various ways that Seattle's offense can get the job done. Seattle headlined a 4-0 week from the league's best division, and they also headline the list of Super Bowl favorites. (Last week: 2)

2. Denver Broncos

Current Playoff Projection: AFC #1 seed (AFC West champ)

Poised to all but lock up the AFC's No. 1 overall seed, the Broncos tripped over themselves and coughed up a surprising home loss to the Chargers. Manning appeared to miss the easy chain-moving candy offered by Wes Welker as he uncharacteristically held the ball for too long on several occasions. To be sure, Manning and the rest of the offense didn't see too much of the ball as their defense got absolutely shoved around by Ryan Mathews and couldn't get off the field. Pending slaughters of the Texans and Raiders will render Thursday's result moot, but it's worth noting that the Broncos haven't been giving off that all-around, swaggering juggernaut vibe in quite a while. (Last week: 1)

3. San Francisco 49ers

Current Playoff Projection: NFC #6 seed (Wild Card)

It was another methodical beatdown by the Niners, as their physicality was just too much for the Bucs to overcome. Aldon Smith and the rest of the defense crushed the Tampa offensive front. The 49er ground game ground down the opposition and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Colin Kaepernick still needs more involvement in the run game outside of scrambles, but his absolute rocket of a TD pass to Vernon Davis was a reminder of his tremendous physical skills. (Last week: 4)

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4. Carolina Panthers

Current Playoff Projection: NFC #5 seed (Wild Card)

The defense was a little more lax than expected, but the Panthers still managed a comfortable home win against the Jets while no doubt giggling to themselves as the Saints dropped a game on the road. The offense was treated to the annual Random DeAngelo Williams 150-Yard Outburst while Greg Olsen continued to prove that he's the most reliable element in the Panthers' passing game. Carolina will be breathing fire this week to avenge their unsightly loss in the Superdome, and if they can further the Saints' road woes they'll be in prime shape to claim the division crown. (Last week: 6)

5. New England Patriots

Current Playoff Projection: AFC #2 seed (AFC East champ)

The Patriots got a gift when Denver's shocking loss the the Chargers opened up a shot at the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. The Pats promptly gave that gift right back as they fell to the Dolphins. When Miami didn't allow themselves to be rolled over by Shane Vereen, the New England offense was forced to keep grinding its way downfield, eight-yard completion to an undersized wideout at a time. It's a style of offense that demands incredible precision from the QB just to break 20 points, and continued slippage from the Patriots secondary ratchets up the pressure on Brady even further. (Last week: 5)

6. New Orleans Saints

Current Playoff Projection: NFC #2 seed (NFC South champ)

The Saints' home/road disparity is getting a little absurd. Coming off a nine-point loss to a mediocre Rams team that wasn't as close as the score indicated, New Orleans must sort out their road woes against a tough Panthers team or risk coughing up their division crown and a first-round playoff bye. And if any team wants to hang on to home field in the playoffs, it's the Saints. Drew Brees has won dozens and dozens of games with sub-par tackle play, but things may have hit full-on crisis mode with Charles Brown's unceremonious benching. Carolina's Charles Johnson is smiling. (Last week: 3)

7. Kansas City Chiefs

Current Playoff Projection: AFC #5 seed (Wild Card)

Jamaal Charles ran absolutely riot on the Raiders' no-cover linebacking corps, conjuring images of Marshall Faulk in his prime and scoring almost every time he caught the ball with room to operate. The Chiefs' defense gave up some unsightly yardage, but more importantly they harvested an astounding seven turnovers to build an early lead and then squash the Raiders' comeback bid. It would take an amazing gaffe by the Broncos for K.C. to take the division, but at least the Chiefs can aim to enter the playoffs on a hot streak after an ugly November. (Last week: 8)

8. Arizona Cardinals

Just as Aaron Rodgers' absence has been its own argument for his status as league MVP, Tyrann Mathieu's Defensive Rookie of the Year cred got burnished as the Cardinal pass defense collapsed without him. Sans Mathieu, Arizona got badgered by Kendall Wright and found themselves in a surprising shootout. Fortunately, the Cardinals only let Rashard Mendenhall out-touch Andre Ellington by eight in this one, and Ellington's 158 yards from scrimmage were enough to put Arizona over the top. Will a do-or-die home stretch against two of the league's best defenses be enough to make Arizona feature their most explosive offensive player? Only time will tell. (Last week: 9)

9. Cincinnati Bengals

Current Playoff Projection: AFC #3 seed (AFC North champ)

Dropped passes, shoddy special teams and a pass rush that went missing in action all played a role as the Bengals squandered a chance to lock up the AFC North. Andy Dalton was merely average rather than outright cringe-worthy as Cincinnati fought an uphill battle all game. But the Bengals' offensive line turned in a poor effort while Dre Kirkpatrick continued to give Alabama cornerbacks a bad name. It will take an incredible 21-man effort to carry Andy Dalton to the second round of the playoffs, and injuries have likely left this year's Bengals squad a man or two short. (Last week: 7)

10. Indianapolis Colts

Current Playoff Projection: AFC #4 seed (AFC South champ)

The Colts victory over the dreadful Texans was a given -- the real good news came when the Bengals honked to the Steelers to improve Indy's shot at the No. 3 seed. Given the sizable difference in quality between the Chiefs and whoever ends up as the AFC's No. 6, cementing the third spot would be a huge boost to the Colts' chances of reaching the divisional round. (Last week: 12)

11. Miami Dolphins

Current Playoff Projection: Possible AFC #6 seed (Wild Card)

Ryan Tannehill took another step forward in his maturation process, and the Dolphins bagged a victory over New England that proved all the more vital with Baltimore's surprising road win on Monday night. Miami doesn't do any one thing all that well, but they may be balanced enough to win out and claim the AFC's final Wild Card spot. (Last week: 13)

12. Chicago Bears

Current Playoff Projection: NFC #4 seed (NFC North champ)

Jay Cutler's return might have had Bears fans reaching for the McCown Signal early, but he settled down to toss three TDs and keep the Bears' playoff hopes alive. It was a credible performance given the opponent and the wind. While the Bears' defense got some help from that same wind, it also benefitted from The Artist Formerly Known as Jay Ratliff. Ratliff tore up the interior of the Browns' O-line and provided the kind of pop that's been missing from the Chicago front four since Henry Melton went down. (Last week: 15)

13. Baltimore Ravens

Current Playoff Projection: AFC #6 seed (Wild Card)

The Ravens pulled out a nail-biter in Motown, leaning on the big leg of team MVP Justin Tucker to knock in an insane 61-yarder to pull off the victory. Baltimore's non-Tucker offense didn't dazzle anyone. Joe Flacco played turnover-free and the Ravens' pass defense did just enough to contain Megatron while waiting for Stafford to be Stafford and give them the ball. Win out and they're in, but tough contests with New England and Cincinnati still loom. (Last week: 14)

14. Detroit Lions

The Lions seem to exist for no other purpose than to torment their fans, and those long-suffering folks endured new kinds of torment on Monday night. Getting field-goaled to death is never fun. It's extra-insulting when a kicker bangs through a sea-level 61-yarder with no wind at his back. Calvin Johnson dropped balls, Matt Stafford dropped three INTs into the Ravens' laps, and the Lions dropped yet another game to finally fall behind the pursuing Bears and Packers in the standings. Rallying from this one will be tough. (Last week: 10)

Beating the Broncos: San Diego showed how it's done

15. San Diego Chargers

Put another feather in head coach Mike McCoy's cap. He's spent most of the year rejuvenating Philip Rivers with a precision quick-passing attack. On Thursday he conjured up a clock-killing 177-yard ground attack that chewed up the Broncos' stout run defense and delivered the Chargers their most impressive road win of the 2013 season. The Chargers' playoff hopes are thin at best, but if Rivers ages gracefully then McCoy could have San Diego making noise for the next few seasons. (Last week: 16)

16. Philadelphia Eagles

Current Playoff Projection: NFC #3 seed (NFC East champ)

After a decent run of form, the Eagles' secondary regressed to its early-season clown shoes style of ball and was eviscerated by Matt Cassel and Greg Jennings. A big early deficit and the Ghost of Andy Reid compelled Chip Kelly to utterly abandon the run, and Nick Foles' fantasy-friendly stat-jack wasn't enough to close the gap. In any other division, a collapse to an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings team would be an outright disaster. In the NFC East, though, the Eagles can simply shrug, wait for Dallas to self-immolate in even more dire fashion and then boldly claim the right to get annihilated by the Panthers or Niners in the wild card round. (Last week: 11)

17. Pittsburgh Steelers

An 0-4 start all but buried the Steelers' season before it began, but they've turned in an effort worthy of a playoff team since then. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have been one of the AFC's top connections despite gawd-awful tackle play, and the defense keeps turning in solid efforts despite its rapidly aging secondary. (Last week: 18)

18. Green Bay Packers

Turns out the Packers are just MOSTLY dead. Last week, Matt Flynn proved that even an inept NFL QB can get over on a terrible NFL secondary. This week, he proved that an inept QB can do even better against a secondary that's not NFL-caliber whatsoever. Flynn may have done just enough, as Green Bay has improbably overtaken Detroit and can take the North with wins in their final two games. If Aaron Rodgers' collarbone can heal, the Pack are a good bet to do just that. (Last week: 23)

19. St. Louis Rams

Having straggled through a couple of lackluster offensive weeks, the Rams broke out the "Hey, Zac - go win the game for us!" plan with impressive results. Stacy battered the Saints for 133 yards on the ground and allowed Kellen Clemens to safely dink and dunk. Led by Robert Quinn's outright demolition of Charles Brown, the Rams D forced enough mistakes to stymie the Saints despite surrendering yet another truckload of passing yards. Jeff Fisher and company can spend the offseason squaring away the QB and secondary situations, while owner Stan Kroenke can focus his efforts on lobbying the Commissioner's office for divisional realignment. (Last week: 20)

20. Dallas Cowboys

If Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy are determined to keep this Weekend at Monte's gag going, it's time they at least start sending down some better plays from the booth. Dallas staged an epic second-half collapse as they abandoned a highly effective run game, committed third-down atrocities on both sides of the ball, and got abused by Matt Flynn. Another December to remember in Dallas. (Last week: 17)

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21. Tennessee Titans

Ryan Fitzpatrick headlined Week 15's list of Most Ridiculous QBs To Lose To In the Fantasy Playoffs, and his 400-yard, four-touchdown effort almost put an unexpected end to the Cardinals' playoff hopes. The Titans' inability to slow down Andre Ellington doomed them, though, and the result was yet another woulda-coulda-shoulda defeat. Kendall Wright's coming out party was cause for future optimism in the Titans passing game, which was tempered a tad by Justin Hunter's "team rules" suspension. Tennessee should probably keep Hunter in a hermetically sealed bubble until Kenny Britt is shipped out of town -- Wide Receiver Malcontentitis can be extremely contagious. (Last week: 21)

22. Cleveland Browns

Jason Campbell went above and beyond the call of duty in several starts this season, but he was below and beneath most standards of decent quarterbacking on Sunday. His scattershot effort doomed the Browns, and also probably knocked out that smug guy in your fantasy playoffs who had been bragging all season about his sleeper pickup of Jordan Cameron. So that's cool. Unless, of course, you WERE that guy. I know I was. (Last week: 22)

23. Minnesota Vikings

No Adrian Peterson? No problem. Matt Cassel ran wild on Philly's disaster-prone secondary -- which was a good thing, as his own secondary was enduring a barbecuing of its own. Cassel may have earned himself the chance to enter 2014 as the Vikings' starter, but if Minnesota comes out of a QB-rich 2014 Draft without its signal caller of the future, then games like this will have done far more harm than good. (Last week: 26)

24. New York Giants

You can't spell "G-I-A-N-T-S" without "I-N-T-S," and Eli Manning served up another five on Sunday in a desperate bid to hold off challenger Geno Smith for the league title. The good news for New York is that Hakeem Nicks broke down BEFORE the Giants could ink him to a pricey extension. The bad news is pretty much everything else. (Last week: 19)

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs never gave up against a superior 49ers team, but that didn't stop them from getting remorselessly pounded down over four quarters. It seems like Tim Wright is carving out a place for himself on next year's team, and Mike Glennon may have done enough to say the same even though that QB-rich draft will provide plenty of temptation. (Last week: 24)

26. New York Jets

Geno Smith managed an almost gaffe-free game, but that one gaffe was a doozy as the Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn returned Smith's errant toss to put a 10-point game out of reach. A garbage time touchdown helped on the final score, but it was another poor showing for the pass defense. Rex Ryan has probably earned one more post-Mark Sanchez season to turn things around, but we'll see whether Woody Johnson agrees.  (Last week: 25)

27. Atlanta Falcons

It's been a long season for Falcons fans, but at least they were treated to an entertaining game in Atlanta's battle with a dire Redskins squad. Needing seven turnovers to log a one-point win over a three-win team isn't exactly a hallmark of greatness, but like we said ... it's been a long season. Atlanta can take solace in a strong rookie year from corner Desmond Trufant while looking forward to a healthy Julio Jones and a (hopefully) massively re-vamped defense next season. (Last week: 28)

28. Oakland Raiders

"Hey guys -- No. 25 is actually eligible!" Oakland endured a near-historic roasting at the hands of Jamaal Charles in the passing game. The Raiders' own passing game was not without its shameful moments, as a nifty top-line yardage number belied a hideous six turnovers served up by the quarterback position. Four wins was already exceeding many preseason expectations for the Raiders, but four wins will be where they stay if Pryor and McGloin can't raise their level of play in the last two weeks. (Last week: 27)

29. Buffalo Bills

Buffalo escapes the 30s in the power rankings thanks to a courageous win over the Jags! How a struggling passing game gets through four quarters with but a single throw to C.J. Spiller is a mystery beyond the ken of mortal men, but Buffalo's ground game and a solid dose of rookie Robert Woods were enough to stake the Bills to a victory. (Last week: 30)

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

Like the Raiders, the Jags' four wins probably represent three more than many people expected. They came up short against Buffalo thanks to two interceptions and some poor run defense, but the good news is they got a solid Iron Law of Running Back Fungibility reminder with Jordan Todman's 100-yard effort that may help them avoid burning cash on MJD as the rebuild begins. Or continues. Or maybe, when you've been bad this long, it's just a "build." (Last week: 29)

31. Washington Redskins

When you're facing a defense as poor as Atlanta's, it's hard to tell whether the offense was invigorated by the insertion of Kirk Cousins or simply stumbling into success against an inept foe. Of course, not even 480-plus yards of offense were enough for this sad-sack Skins team to actually log a win, due in large part to a horrifying seven turnovers. Oh well, at least that draft pick will help them to ... wait, what? They're sending that pick to the Rams and have benched the QB that they used that pick to attain? Ugh. (Last week: 31)

32. Houston Texans

Over the course of eight weeks, Case Keenum's aspirations have regressed from "Prove that I'm the Texans' QB of the future" to "Prove that I'm the Texans' backup QB of the future" to "Try not to get burned in effigy quite as often as Matt Schaub." Everything about the Texans has been bad since September. (Last week: 32)

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