The 2012 NFL playoffs move onto the divisional round this weekend after we saw four teams eliminated on Wild Card weekend. The first round byes are over now and every team left in the postseason will be playing either Saturday or Sunday.
The Green Bay Packers were the No. 1 ranked team in our NFL power rankings throughout the entire regular season. It's a spot they never gave up and so it only makes sense to start with them as we move onto the playoffs edition of our NFL power rankings.
1. Green Bay Packers (No. 1 NFC seed; Next game: vs. New York Giants)
Yes, the Packers are in the top spot (even though I think they're in for a giant upset this weekend), where they have been all season. Green Bay hasn't had a playoff game yet but they have home field advantage throughout and they've clearly demonstrated through 16 games that they're the best team in the league. Sure, the Packers have their faults and, as they say, 'any given Sunday', but Green Bay merits the top spot until someone shows that they're better. As of now, the only team that could have an argument over the Packers is the....
2. New Orleans Saints (No. 3 NFC seed; Next game: at San Francisco 49ers)
Drew Brees and Co. are on another level. They haven't lost since October. They've scored 42 or more points in the last four games. Brees and the rest of the offense are embarrassing some NFL records this year. In short, the Saints are playing well enough to beat anyone right now. New Orleans lost their head-to-head matchup with the Packers in the opening week of the season so they don't have the argument that they're better but they may get a shot to see the Packers again which, if it happens, would be in Green Bay in a couple weeks. That will determine, once and for all, whether the NFC belongs to the Saints or Packers.
3. Baltimore Ravens (No. 2 AFC seed; Next game: vs. Houston Texans)
The Ravens are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and I have them ranked about the Patriots, the No. 1 seed. I think Baltimore is more of a complete team and built for January football better than New England is. We've seen more from the Ravens this year -- they've defeated six playoff teams this year and come from arguably the best division in football -- than the Patriots, who didn't defeat a team who finished with a winning record. Two years ago a 9-7 Ravens team beat the Patriots in the Wild Card game and, if they meet again, I think Baltimore wins.
4. New England Patriots (No. 1 AFC seed; Next game: vs. Denver Broncos)
The Patriots haven't won a playoff game in nearly four years which, for New England, seems like a lifetime. The Patriots are clearly an elite team -- 13 wins, one of the best quarterbacks ever and the No. 3 ranked offense. They do a lot of things right and there aren't many teams (lookin' at you, Denver) that can hang with them offensively. That said, the defense is a bit of a concern. It's not all doom-and-gloom as you might think with what they're saying in New England about the number of yards the Patriots defense gives up -- the defense is ranked 15th in scoring, which is the more important stat -- but they're going to need to demonstrate that their defense can step up when the offense runs into some of these defenses, like the Broncos, Ravens or Texans.
5. San Francisco 49ers (No. 2 NFC seed; Next game: vs. New Orleans Saints)
The NFC's No. 2 seed is all the way down here at No. 5 in our NFL playoffs power rankings, which seems low. But take a look at the teams ranked ahead of them and figure out who should drop. Ravens? Patriots? Maybe, but those teams are playoff-tested. They've been here before and they know what the playoffs are all about. I'm not knocking the 49ers -- they're just more of an unknown right now. Maybe they dominate the Saints this weekend and prove us all wrong but until they show me they can play on this level I'm going to keep them ranked below some of these other teams.
6. New York Giants (No. 4 NFC seed; Next game: at Green Bay Packers)
I'm a big fan of what the Giants are doing right now. It all seems so similar to four years ago when the Giants made a playoff run and won the Super Bowl. They're a veteran group. The defensive line is solid and can make life hell for the opposing quarterback. Eli Manning is good enough to win a Super Bowl with. The Giants have a lot of things going for them. The reason they're not ranked higher is that they're a tad inconsistent for my liking. They only went 9-7 during the regular season and, even though they appear to be getting hot, I can't rank them above teams that have proven more over the last 18 weeks.
7. Houston Texans (No. 3 AFC seed; Next game: at Baltimore Ravens)
It's still hard to look at the Texans and not think, "All offense and no defense." Those are the old Texans. This Texans team is built on defense as Wade Phillips has transformed that unit into one of the best in the league. The running game, like the defense, is terrific. That said, this is a league about quarterbacks and the Texans are lacking in that department. Don't take this as a knock on T.J. Yates. He's just a rookie, a fifth round pick for that matter, and I'm not sure he's ready for a divisional game against a team that's fielded the best defense for the last decade.
8. Denver Broncos (No. 4 AFC seed; Next game: at New England Patriots)
And the the Broncos. The Tim Tebow show is ranked last of all the teams in the 2012 NFL playoffs field. The Broncos are one of those teams with ugly stats -- 25th on offense and 24th on defense -- and they play even uglier. Their final three games of the regular season included an 18-point loss, 24-point loss and a loss to the Chiefs in which they scored just three points. They had no momentum heading into the playoffs and, yet, when the clock hit zero they had beaten the Steelers. So, yes, we'll rank the Broncos last while recognizing that there's no real explanation for how they win.