Week 17 NFL Power Rankings: 49ers, Seahawks steady at the top

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

While there was certainly some shuffling in the postseason race on Sunday, there's little change at the top of our power rankings heading into the final week of the regular season.

Week 16 brought a number of playoff races into sharp focus, and several teams had the opportunity to cement or greatly enhance their playoff fortunes simply by winning a home game or defeating a demonstrably inferior team. In the words of the great Elvis Presley, it was about Takin' Care of Business. TCB was the King's motto (he went so far as to have the TCB logo engraved on his headstone) and this week's edition of the power rankings is all about who did, or didn't, live up to the King's motto in Week 16.

(Last week's power rankings)

1. Seattle Seahawks

Current Playoff Projection: NFC No. 1 seed (NFC West leader)

The first team to fail the TCB Test was perhaps the most surprising. The Seahawks suffered a nigh-unheard of home loss to the Cardinals despite picking off Carson Palmer four times. Russell Wilson has spun straw into gold with the Seahawks' C-grade passing weapons all season long, but he had no answers against an Arizona secondary that must have figured a lot of things out after getting torched by Ryan Fitzpatrick a week ago. Seattle stays atop this season's penultimate power rankings thanks to the crippling loss of Von Miller for the Broncos, but staying ahead of the 49ers will now require a Week 17 win over the Rams. (Last week: 1)

2. Denver Broncos

Current Playoff Projection: AFC  No. 1 seed (AFC West champ)

Denver righted the ship with a thrashing of the Texans and proved that Wes Welker's slot production can be replaced in the short term. What will be far tougher to replace, though, is the all-around havoc generated by Von Miller.  Lost for the postseason with an ill-timed ACL tear, a Broncos' defense that has struggled against the pass now has even fewer options for putting heat on opposing QBs. Shootouts will be the order of the day in the playoffs, and no offense in football is better suited to hold up their end of the bargain. (Last week: 2)

3. San Francisco 49ers

Current Playoff Projection: NFC No. 5 seed (NFC wild card)

The Niners got a stiffer test than they bargained for from a fired-up Falcons squad, but they proved equal to the challenge of dispatching a lesser foe and keeping themselves alive for the NFC West division crown should the Seahawks submit a second straight clanker at the Clink. Despite a series of near-misses to Vernon Davis, Colin Kaepernick looked sharp in the air and on the ground, and his returning rapport with Michael Crabtree should make the Seahawks very anxious to get Percy Harvin healed up to even the scales. (Last week: 3)

4. Carolina Panthers

Current Playoff Projection: NFC No. 2 seed (NFC South leader)

They may have gotten a bit of an assist from monsoon-like conditions, but the Panthers did plenty to help their own cause as they shut down the Saints' passing attack and passed their own TCB Test with flying colors. Luke Kuechly would have needed to clone himself to be involved in more defensive plays. Cam Newton was on target when it counted as he shook off sacks and other miscues to connect on deep shots to get the Panthers in position to win at the end. A Week 17 matchup with the woebegone Falcons is all that stands between Carolina and a first-round bye. (Last week: 4)

5. New England Patriots

Current Playoff Projection: AFC No. 2 seed (AFC East champ)

Some prognosticators smelled an upset thanks to Baltimore's toughness at home and Tom Brady's historic struggles with the Ravens defense. The Pats put paid to that line of thinking in a hurry, though, jumping out to an early 14-0 lead en route to an absolute throttling of the Ravens. The New England D is short on household names but long on crafty coverage, and Tom Brady is going to see just how far an offense can go on option routes to Julian Edelman and swing passes to Shane Vereen. Outside of Vereen, the Patriots' running back stable is basically Cerberus -- it has three heads, and at least two of them are always in the doghouse. (Last week: 5)

6. Arizona Cardinals

A week after the ignominy of getting roasted by Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Cardinals defense rose up with a fury to stymie the Seahawks despite getting stabbed in the back by their own offense. It was one of the season's most impressive defensive displays. Even though Arizona's playoff hopes rest on the thin chance of Tampa Bay beating the Saints in the Superdome, Cardinal fans can take pride in a defense that should be among the league's best once more in 2014. (Last week: 8)

7. Cincinnati Bengals

Current Playoff Projection: AFC No. 3 seed (AFC North champ)

The Ginger Avenger has spit the bit on more than one occasion this season, but he grabbed the TCB lightning bolt like Zeus himself and smote the Vikings. Behind Dalton's four TDs and a turnover-happy defense, Cincy ran wild on Minnesota and kept themselves in the running for a first round bye should New England falter in the final week. The Bengals' recent ground game woes are worrisome to anyone who isn't sold on the notion of Dalton putting the team on his back for a four-game run. If Cincinnati's defensive front can keep causing havoc despite the loss of Geno Atkins, they can keep anyone else from having to do nearly as much heavy lifting. (Last week: 9)

8. New Orleans Saints

Current Playoff Projection: NFC No. 6 seed (NFC wild card)

It's a truism that New Orleans' precision passing game functions better at home, and in a rainstorm it ceases to function at all. Of course, the Panthers had much to do with disrupting Brees and company, and the left tackle spot has blossomed into a full-blown crisis over the last couple of weeks. With Brees under attack, safety Kenny Vaccaro out for the season and the prospect of a road wild card game looming, things are looking a lot tougher for the boys from the Big Easy. (Last week: 6)

9. Indianapolis Colts

Current Playoff Projection: AFC No. 4 seed (AFC South champ)

The league's highest-beta team showed their good side again on Sunday as the Colts looked like a contender while methodically dispatching the Chiefs. On offense, Pep seems to finally be figuring out the right formula -- lots of Luck, dashes of Donald, save Trent Richardson for moments in the game where three carries for eight yards is actually a handy clock-killer. The defense still seems fairly outmatched against the league's elite offenses, but when facing a one-dimensional bunch, they may be able to get the job done. In all likelihood, they'll get their shot at just such an offense in two weeks when they face … the Chiefs again. (Last week: 10)

10. Kansas City Chiefs

Current Playoff Projection: AFC No. 5 seed (AFC wild card)

The Chiefs were likely looking at the fifth seed no matter what, but it certainly wouldn't have harmed their playoff prospects to look remotely competent trying to throw downfield against Indy's middling D. It was by far Alex Smith's worst showing of the season, and Chiefs fans are hoping that he's not about to crater at the worst possible time. They're also sending some extra hope Justin Houston's way, as a formerly dominating defense has looked tremendously average in his absence. (Last week: 7)

11. Philadelphia Eagles

Current Playoff Projection: NFC No. 3 seed (NFC East leader)

Not since the first 33 minutes of their season-opening win over the Redskins has the Eagles' devastating pace seemed as formidable as it did against the Bears on Sunday night. While Chip Kelly let off the gas in Week 1, he triggered the nitrous and kept the pedal to the metal while embarrasing Chicago. The Eagles lack home-field advantage in their win-or-go-home showdown with Dallas next week, but they bring just about every other advantage you could hope for into Jerryworld as they attempt to run riot on the Romo-less Cowboys. (Last week: 16)

12. San Diego Chargers

They made things more interesting than they needed to be with a trio of first-half turnovers, but the Chargers got the wheels back on the axles and took care of the swooning Raiders. Their victory makes things much more interesting in the three-way AFC wild card chase, and while the Chargers are on the outside from a tiebreaker standpoint, they may have the best shot at logging a victory if Andy Reid elects to sit the Chiefs' starters. Philip Rivers may need to throw a touchdown for every kid he has to drag San Diego's laggard D to an actual playoff win, but it would certainly be entertaining to watch him try. (Last week: 15)

13. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has been playing for pride for a couple of months now. They've largely been playing well -- and they've played themselves into playoff contention going into the final week. It would take a lot for the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers to all go down, especially since San Diego may be facing the Chiefs' scrubs in Week 17. But even if they fall short, Roethlisberger and company have done the Steel City proud. (Last week: 17)

14. Miami Dolphins

Current Playoff Projection: Possible AFC No. 6 seed (AFC wild card)

It took a special kind of putrid to wrest the "Most Embarrassing TCB Performance" away from a Bears squad that got routed by 43 points, but the Dolphins were up to the task. Richie Incognito may be at the heart of the O-line's woes, but all five of the remaining guys may want to consider aliases after their abject failure against the Bills. A Week 17 win still gets the Dolphins in, but the Jets are more than capable of beating up Miami's front if they put forth a similar effort next Sunday. And I'm talking about the high school miscreants from West Side Story -- the New York Jets will crush them if they again fail to leave the locker room. (Last week: 11)

15. Chicago Bears

Current Playoff Projection: Possible NFC No. 4 seed (NFC North leader)

While Chicago didn't quite have the most embarrassing failure of TCB Week, it certainly had the most spectacular implosion. When this Bears team runs up against an opponent with the will to fully exploit its horrendous run defense and enough above-average players on the defensive front to beat up its paper-tiger OL, it loses … badly. With Eddie Lacy and Clay Matthews looking iffy for Week 17, the Packers might be sufficiently lacking in those requisites to allow the Bears to make up for their TCB failure and capture the NFC North. And then, the 49ers will come calling … (Last week: 12)

16. St. Louis Rams

Like Jeff Fisher's mustache, Jeff Fisher's teams tend to be ugly and brutalistic but get the job done. At least I'm assuming that Fisher's mustache is getting the job done. His team certainly did on Sunday, turning in an epic display of Fisherball as the Rams pounded Tampa Bay with Zac Stacy and punished Mike Glennon with … pretty much everyone. St. Louis has long been consigned to the spoiler role, but they'll look to emulate the Cardinals and ruin Seattle's party in Week 17. Considering how tough they played Seattle in Week 8, and considering that the Seahawks may be sacrificing a backup left tackle on the Altar of Robert Quinn, it's not a prospect that Seattle fans should sleep on. (Last week: 19)

17. Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco ran the ball in for a meaningless touchdown early in the fourth quarter for the Ravens' only score. The Patriots responded with three more touchdowns, including one when Chandler Jones scooping up a fumble in the end zone. While the Patriots used the Ravens as a practice squad, the Bills were taking care of business on behalf of the Ravens, keeping Baltimore's playoff hopes alive by beating the Dolphins. We like to say there's a "race" for the sixth and final spot in the AFC, but it's more like a demolition derby. (Last week: 13)

18. Detroit Lions

"This is the way the season ends

Not with a bang but with dog-cussing your own fans."

- T.S. Eliot (not really)

Shockingly, the coach who has presided over the league's cheap-shottingest outfit did not respond with even temperament as boos rained down from the stands at the end of the game. Jim Schwartz fired off some choice words to the crowd, and the crowd likely returned them with interest as the Lions coughed up any shot at the playoffs by falling to an absolutely wretched Giants team.

Madjim_medium

The Lions' coach in 2014 - who will not be Jim Schwartz - will be charged with bringing some consistency to Matt Stafford's frequently scattershot game while also rebuilding one of the league's most dubious secondaries. (Last week: 14)

19. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have been holding it together with duct tape and baling wire since Aaron Rodgers snapped his collarbone, but Eddie Lacy's bum ankle and Matt Flynn's bum everything were bound to run out of luck at some point. Since the NFC North is NFC East-ier than the NFC East, however, the Pack STILL have a shot at the postseason if they can get past a recently-humiliated Bears squad on Sunday. That game could see all or none of Rodgers, Lacy and Randall Cobb, making the outcome tough to call six days out. But calling a 49ers victory in the Wild Card round seems a good deal more certain. (Last week: 18)

20. Dallas Cowboys

With an ugly interception and a blown lead already in the books, it looked like another classic Cowboys' meltdown in progress. But Dallas flipped the script -- Jason Garrett didn't outsmart himself and kept featuring the run game, Tony Romo conjured a clutch game-winner, and the defense finally realized that setting up a backup QB with cake-and-candy throws by continually allowing receivers to release inside maaaaaaaybe wasn't a good idea. The setup was there for a classic do-or-die showdown with the Eagles ... until word came down of Tony Romo's season-ending back injury. Now the Cowboys' realistic Week 17 ambitions have less to do with winning the division and more to do with trying to keep LeSean McCoy from breaking Eric Dickerson's opponent rushing record of 248 yards. (Last week: 20)

21. Tennessee Titans

A none-too-inspiring win over the Jags was right in line with the Titans' ho-hum season. It was noteworthy for Tennessee's absurd $10 million insurance back outperforming their far more absurd $55 million "franchise" back, as well as for Nate Washington stealing Kendall Wright's thunder in Fantasy Championship week. Answers like Wright and Alterraun Verner mingle with questions like the offensive backfield up and down Tennessee's roster, leaving plenty of offseason pick-and-shovel work necessary to avoid further humdrums in 2014. (Last week: 21)

22. New York Giants

Weary Giants fans got to celebrate victory for a sixth time this season as Lions fans wept, proving once again that it's always better to be temporarily disappointed than perpetually cursed. To avoid delivering further disappointments next year, the Giants will have to hope that Eli's picktastic season was more flukey happenstance than harbinger of decline. Purging the aged and infirm along both lines of scrimmage wouldn't hurt, either. (Last week: 24)

23. New York Jets

For the last few seasons, the Jets' roster has made a bargain: if our QB doesn't absolutely kill us, we'll win the game. Their QBs have seldom held up their end of the bargain, but Geno Smith turned in an error-free effort against the Browns and the rest of the squad held up their part of the deal. The team's fight and spirit make a good argument for giving Rex Ryan one more season. If he's able to scheme up a pass rush and heal a battered secondary, then the Jets can at least claim a spot among the rest of the AFC East's hyenas waiting for Tom Brady's Mufasa to finally expire. (Last week: 26)

24. Cleveland Browns

The Jason Campbell Dreamwagon started leaking oil against the Bears last week, and it snapped an axle and burst into flames against the Jets. To be fair, outside of Josh Gordon, Campbell was throwing to the least inspiring cast this side of Dads, but it was one more reminder that the Browns have miles to go at the quarterback position. Thanks to their heist of the Colts in the Trent Richardson trade, they'll be in a good spot to fill the position … that they could have filled if they didn't take Richardson and Brandon Weeden last year. (Last week: 22)

25. Minnesota Vikings

Fairy tale castles in children's dreams fade away when they wake up, and Matt Cassel's fairy-tale run of competent QB play got a rude awakening courtesy of the Bengals defense. Vikings fans should breathe a sigh of relief, as this game should help ensure that the front office doesn't have any delusions of rolling with Cassel as the starter in 2014. If Scott Pioli lands another GM gig this offseason, though, it's Katy bar the door. (Last week: 23)

26. Buffalo Bills

Riding an absolutely dominant effort from the defensive front, the Bills made Thad Lewis a winner as they bullied the Dolphins on both sides of the ball. Robert Woods got a little carried away with the bullying and attempted an uppercut to an opponent who was still wearing a helmet, but it was one of the few blows that didn't connect on Sunday.

Woodspunch_medium

This season might not have been everything Bills fans had hoped for, but 2014 represents fresh opportunities. The new-look 3-4 can take another step towards dominance, E.J. Manuel can build on an injury-riddled rookie year, and Doug Marrone can embrace new chances to lie about C.J. Spiller's usage in the offense. (Last week: 29)

27. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons showed a lot of heart on the road against the 49ers, but a late Matt Ryan ELI scuttled any hopes of a stirring upset. Ryan's strong performance served as a reminder of what he can do with an A-grade cast of weapons, and if Julio Jones' foot heals right he'll be well on his way to just such a cast in 2014.  If GM Thomas Dimitroff can't get the defense sorted out in the offseason, Ryan will need every weapon he can get his hands on. (Last week: 27)

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the Headless Horseman had put away his axe and instead just mercilessly pummeled Ichabod Crane for three hours, the results would have looked a lot like the Rams-Bucs game. The gangly Glennon took a ferocious beating at the hands of Robert Quinn and the St. Louis front four, absorbing seven sacks and coughing up a fumble as the Bucs' offense failed to crack 200 yards on the day. Glennon has at least earned himself a long look in 2014, though a team-wide post-Schiano reboot is likely in the offing. (Last week: 25)

29. Oakland Raiders

A trio of ghastly Chargers' turnovers kept them close in the first half, but ultimately the Raiders lacked the firepower to log a second win over their division rivals. It seems that Terrelle Pryor will get one more shot to prove his worth in Week 17, though the Raiders' NCAA-caliber QB rotation will likely rear its head again at some point during the contest. It's a shame that coach Dennis Allen is likely on his way out, as the Raiders brain trust doesn't seem to realize that he probably doubled the number of wins that their roster should have pulled down. But the odds are that Allen will land on his feet a lot sooner than the Raiders will. (Last week: 28)

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

All good things must come to an end, and once Jacksonville ran out of Texans games on the schedule, the good times kinda ground to a halt. The Jags' O-line got mauled, and another spare-to-fair performance from Chad Henne wasn't enough to lift the Jags to a fifth win. You have to feel for Henne he keeps stringing along these 200 yard, one or two TD throw kind of games on a beleaguered team, and all he's earning for himself is the chance to caddy for Jacksonville's QB of the Future in 2014. If he could have just ridden the bench and then uncorked three of those beauties in a meaningless relief appearance, he could be looking at phat Matt Flynn cash. Ah, well, timing is everything. (Last week: 30)

31. Washington Redskins

Wins over the Cowboys have punctuated even the most dire of Redskin seasons, and they looked to have another one in the bag after DeMarco Murray's wrong-way fiasco turned 3rd and goal into 4th-and-aaarrrggghhh. But Romo and Murray delivered a game-winning throw to the flat, and the Redskins' miserable season slogged on. There shouldn't be a QB controversy heading into 2014, but in Snyderland it seems that almost anything is possible. Kirk Cousins gets one more shot to state his case in Week 17, this time against a defense that has at least some semblance of a pulse. Should he slip up, look for more goodness from Fox's RGIII Smirk and Eyeroll Cam. (Last week: 31)

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32. Houston Texans

Matt Schaub's career in Houston is almost certainly done after this season, but he had a chance to at least re-establish some pride while appealing to 2014's backup-hungry teams as he filled in for an injured Case Keenum. Both pride and 2014 game checks were imperiled, though, as Schaub was abysmal in the face of any kind of pressure and tossed two picks to help doom Houston's cause. At least neither was a pick six. Who knows, maybe in 2014 we'll refer to pick sixes as something other than Schaubs. (Last week: 32)

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