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Final NFL power rankings: Patriots finish on top, while Falcons jump Cowboys

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The Patriots never let off the gas all season, and the Falcons and Packers got hot down the stretch to surge up the rankings.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

Week 17 can be a strange one to judge.

Is there reason to doubt the Dallas Cowboys after a 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that mostly featured Mark Sanchez at quarterback? No, not really.

But is there reason to doubt the Oakland Raiders after a 24-6 loss to the Denver Broncos with the AFC West on the line? You bet there is.

The stakes are different for so many teams by the time the season finale rolls around, and the best practice is to mostly trust that the team you watched in December is the closest representation to the actual current state of a team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers required overtime to beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 17, narrowly dodging several chances for the worst team in the NFL to grab only its second win. But the Steelers were also perfectly OK with putting a six-game winning streak in danger by sitting Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown.

It was the poor performances of teams in high-stakes games like Oakland and Washington that are really worth raising eyebrows.

Deep falls

Beating the New York Giants isn’t an easy task, but it was a win-or-go-home game for Washington and a completely inconsequential game for New York. The Giants were stuck with the No. 5 seed either way, but still managed to eliminate Washington from the postseason with a great defensive performance.

In particular, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a nightmare for Kirk Cousins, and tallied his second interception of the game in the final minutes to shut down what proved to be Washington’s last real chance at the playoffs.

Cousins could’ve put together a signature drive before another offseason of contract negotiations, but the mediocre outing certainly isn’t going to help that.

Even though the Buffalo Bills didn’t have a chance to get into the postseason, that’s hardly an excuse for a 30-10 loss to the New York Jets. EJ Manuel struggled in his first start of the year, and the Bills just didn’t look good in any phase. They didn’t even pick up kickoffs properly.

Big jumps

A climb into the top 10 for the Detroit Lions might seem odd after a loss in the de facto NFC North championship game, but it’s hard not to come away impressed with both of the division’s playoff teams.

Aaron Rodgers is playing at an unbelievably level, racking up 18 passing touchdowns and no interceptions over the last seven games of the season. He may have even saved the best for last against the Lions in a four-touchdown game that sealed the division title for the Packers.

Yet, despite Rodgers’ ridiculously high level of play, the Lions weren’t completely out of the game until the final minutes. Matthew Stafford couldn’t quite out duel Rodgers, but he still played really well — busted finger and all.

With teams like the Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks all limping down the stretch, the Packers and Lions look well-positioned to give the Cowboys and Falcons a run for their money in the postseason.

The Atlanta Falcons also finished the year on a high note, notching a 38-32 win over the New Orleans Saints. In the last four weeks of the season, the Falcons tallied 154 points.

Moving the team up one spot doesn’t exactly qualify as a big jump, but sliding ahead of the Dallas Cowboys does. No team is hotter offensively entering the playoffs, and if the Falcons can come close to keeping up their nearly 40 points per game average, they’ll be a nightmare to stop in the playoffs.

Bottom of the trash heap

The New York Jets looked entirely deserving of the bottom spot after consecutive blowout losses, but then they followed those up with a runaway victory of their own over the Bills.

The Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers were both pretty competitive with good teams Sunday — albeit ones that were coasting into the postseason. So the team most deserving to finish the year at No. 32 is the Los Angeles Rams, who ended the season with a 44-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Once upon a time, the Rams were 4-5 and not entirely out of the race in the underwhelming NFC West. They finished the year with seven straight losses and fewer than 200 yards of total offense in four of the last five games. Yikes.

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

Tony Romo made his season debut in Week 17