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NFL power rankings 2016, Week 17: Packers, Steelers are getting hot when it matters most

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Le’Veon Bell and Aaron Rodgers are leading their teams on winning streaks to finish the year.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys still seem like the respective favorites in the AFC and NFC, but there are a few teams that are looking like threats with some impressive December performances.

Both the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers were under .500 in November, but tore through the tail end of their schedule.

"I feel like we can run the table, I really do," Aaron Rodgers said on Nov. 23, three days after Green Bay lost to Washington, 42-24, dropping the team to 4-6. "The offense is starting to click a little bit more. We've just got to put together a game where we're more consistent from the first snap to the last. We've been, I think, getting closer to that. We've really been clicking, at times, in the last few games.”

Since then, he’s thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, leading the Packers on a five-game winning streak.

In Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell might be even more unstoppable. During a six-game winning streak, the running back is averaging 181 total yards per game. Even when Ben Roethlisberger struggles like he did against the Buffalo Bills or most of the game against the Baltimore Ravens, Bell has been too much for teams to deal with.

And it’ll be up to teams in the postseason to figure out how to stop him.

Deep falls

It was fun while it lasted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans. Both teams surged into the postseason hunt in the latter half of the season, and both watched those hopes evaporate as quickly as they came.

A Buccaneers defense that forced 14 turnovers and held five teams under 350 yards of offense to launch the team to the top of the NFC South gave up over 400 yards in each of the last two weeks and forced just one turnover.

But things were even worse for the Titans — losing Marcus Mariota to a fractured leg during a 38-17 beatdown at the hands of the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.

Big jumps

It’s a little late for most big jumps to matter. Dramatic victories for the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles didn’t do much of anything except screw over divisional rivals, which is a reward in itself.

The significant jumps are the ones that the Packers and Steelers made when it looked safe to rule them out as contenders. Only the Patriots’ six-game winning streak can match their stretches, and there isn’t anywhere for New England to jump.

Bottom of the trash heap

Finally, the teams that got clowned as trash all season got a weekend of revenge, even if it didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Both the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers snapped huge losing streaks with dramatic victories — and the best part is that because both won, neither is any worse off in the hunt for a top 2017 NFL draft selection.

The 49ers even clinched a selection in the top two with the Browns thanks to a win by the Jaguars.

Unlike San Francisco and Cleveland, the Jaguars didn’t win a close game — they flat-out dominated the Tennessee Titans. The Jacksonville offense looked reminiscent of the one that racked up passing stats in 2015, and the defense shined with Jalen Ramsey putting on another huge showing.

The wins by the bottom three means a new team is at the bottom of the rankings. The New York Jets have eight turnovers in the last two weeks, and are going to finish the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, because he really might be putting a curse on every quarterback who replaces him.

With just one weekend of regular season football left to play, here are the Week 17 rankings:

Week 17 Team Last week
1 New England Patriots 1
2 Dallas Cowboys 2
3 Atlanta Falcons 3
4 Kansas City Chiefs 5
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 6
6 Oakland Raiders 4
7 New York Giants 7
8 Seattle Seahawks 9
9 Green Bay Packers 14
10 Miami Dolphins 12
11 Baltimore Ravens 9
12 Washington 13
13 Detroit Lions 10
14 Houston Texans 19
15 New Orleans Saints 16
16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11
17 Buffalo Bills 15
18 Indianapolis Colts 18
19 Arizona Cardinals 25
20 Philadelphia Eagles 26
21 Denver Broncos 20
22 Tennessee Titans 17
23 Carolina Panthers 21
24 Cincinnati Bengals 22
25 Minnesota Vikings 23
26 Jacksonville Jaguars 30
27 San Diego Chargers 24
28 Chicago Bears 28
29 San Francisco 49ers 31
30 Cleveland Browns 32
31 Los Angeles Rams 29
32 New York Jets 27

Angry Bill Belichick changes his mind