2014 NFL Power Rankings: Week 17
Heading into Week 17, there are three games this Sunday that will directly determine which team wins their division -- and in turn gets to host (at least) a playoff game.
In two of those three games, the loser will still get into the playoffs but face the tougher challenge of having to win on the road. In the other game (Panthers at Falcons), the loser will be watching the playoffs from their homes like the rest of us.
At the moment, the Panthers have a narrow lead in the NFC South, but they will have to go to Atlanta to face the Falcons in what is essentially a playoff game -- win and you're in. (Lose and you're out.)
Following a six-game losing streak, the Panthers have won three consecutive games with quarterback Cam Newton missing the game in the middle. While Derek Anderson played reasonably well in his spot start (and is now a perfect 2-0 against the Bucs this season), Newton has shown the dual-threat abilities that make him tough to defend in the other two games. Not only does he have a 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio in those two games, but he has rushed 24 times for 146 yards and two scores as well.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Stewart has been running the ball extremely well with DeAngelo Williams out of the lineup. Over the past four games, The Daily Show has rushed 78 times for 437 yards (5.60 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
#Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart's 437 rushing yards in last 4 weeks are most in the NFL— Panthers PR Dept. (@PanthersPR) December 22, 2014
During their three-game winning streak, their defense has held their opponents to an average 13.3 points per game and no more than 17 in any of those three games. Of course, two of those opponents are the low-scoring Buccaneers and Browns, but nonetheless they are playing better defense.
Meanwhile, the Falcons offense has been firing on all cylinders as Matt Ryan has thrown for more than 300 yards in four consecutive games. During that span, he has averaged 342 yards per game with nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
Although Julio Jones missed one of those four games, he has exceeded 100 yards in all three of the other games during that stretch and has 28 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns in those games.
Over the past five games, the Panthers pass defense has been playing better and no wide receiver has more than 75 yards against them during that span. Coincidentally, the receiver with the 75 yards was Atlanta's Roddy White.
Regardless of who wins this game, the NFC South champion will have an under-.500 record and get to host a playoff game. The other five teams in the NFC playoffs will all have 11 or more wins.
While I think all eight division winners should get into the playoffs regardless of their records, I'd be in favor of seeding the teams based on their records, which would mean the NFC South team would be the No. 6 seed (not the No. 4 seed in this case).
Division, Possible No. 1 seed on line at Lambeau Field
More than likely, the Seattle Seahawks, who are double-digit favorites over the Rams, will own home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And with the Seahawks playing their best football of the season, winning at Century Link will be an uphill battle for any team.
If the Seahawks lose, however, the winner of this game will be the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Either way, the winner will earn a first-round bye. On the flip side, the loser of this game will be the No. 6 seed.
Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is having an MVP-caliber season and he's playing much better at home. Not only are the Packers are a perfect 7-0 at home, but Rodgers has a perfect 23:0 TD-to-INT at Lambeau this season. Rodgers is also averaging two yards more per attempt at home (9.67 Y/A at home vs. 7.31 Y/A on the road).
With balance on offense, the Packers have two receivers (Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb) with 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns as well as a 1,000-yard rusher (Eddie Lacy). Over the past eight games, Lacy has 670 rushing yards, 26 receptions for 315 yards and a total of nine touchdowns. In addition, Lacy has 100-plus YFS in all eight of those games. Lacy got off to a slow start this season and rushed for only 36 yards in his first matchup against the Lions in Week 3.
The Lions rank second in the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense and it's the first time they have ranked inside the top 10 in either category since they finished sixth in total defense in 1993.
From December 2000 to October 2013, the Packers have had the Lions' number. During that span, the Lions were 3-23 head-to-head against the Packers. Since then, however, they have won two consecutive games against the Packers by a combined margin of 59-17 although both of those games were in Detroit.
This week, the Lions are more than a touchdown underdog (-7.5) to the Packers, based on odds from sportsbook.ag.
Sunday Night Football for the AFC North Title
Regardless of his lack of success in the postseason, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton will lead the Bengals into the postseason for all four of his NFL seasons. Or maybe it's they advance to the postseason in spite of him.
Over the past four seasons, Dalton has a total of 14,514 passing yards (12th most), 97 touchdowns (11th most) and 64 interceptions (tied for second most).
In back-to-back wins over the Browns and Broncos, rookie running back Jeremy Hill has rushed for 25/148/2 and 22/147/1. Over his past eight games, Hill has four games with at least 147 rushing yards. During that eight-game span, Hill has racked up 829 rushing yards and six rushing scores while averaging 5.56 yards per carry.
On the other side, the Steelers have arguably the league's best running back in second-year back Le'Veon Bell.
Although Bell has rushed 40 times for only 110 yards in his past two games, he scored three touchdowns in those games and has a total of eight scores in the past five games.
On the year, Bell has 282 carries for 1,341 yards and eight touchdowns plus 77 receptions for 774 yards and three scores. Bell's 2,115 yards from scrimmage is a franchise single-season record.
In his first matchup against the Bengals, Bell rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns and added six catches for 50 yards and another score in a 42-21 win on the road. If Bell has another game like he did three weeks ago, a reversal of fortune for the Bengals would seem unlikely.
Here are my Week 17 NFL power rankings:
1. Seattle Seahawks - Record: 11-4, Last Update: No. 1
2. New England Patriots - Record: 12-3, Last Update: No. 2
3. Green Bay Packers - Record: 11-4, Last Update: No. 4
4. Detroit Lions - Record: 11-4, Last Update: No. 5
5. Denver Broncos - Record: 11-4, Last Update: No. 3
6. Dallas Cowboys - Record: 11-4, Last Update: No. 8
7. Cincinnati Bengals - Record: 10-4-1, Last Update: No. 10
8. Arizona Cardinals - Record: 11-4, Last Update: No. 6
9. Pittsburgh Steelers - Record: 10-5, Last Update: No. 12
10. Indianapolis Colts - Record: 10-5, Last Update: No. 7
11. San Diego Chargers - Record: 9-6, Last Update: No. 16
12. Baltimore Ravens - Record: 9-6, Last Update: No. 11
13. Philadelphia Eagles - Record: 9-6, Last Update: No. 9
14. Kansas City Chiefs - Record: 8-7, Last Update: No. 14
15. Carolina Panthers - Record: 6-8-1, Last Update: No. 20
16. Buffalo Bills - Record: 8-7, Last Update: No. 13
17. Miami Dolphins - Record: 8-7, Last Update: No. 17
18. Atlanta Falcons - Record: 6-9, Last Update: No. 23
19. Houston Texans - Record: 8-7, Last Update: No. 19
20. St. Louis Rams - Record: 6-9, Last Update: No. 18
21. New York Giants - Record: 6-9, Last Update: No. 25
22. New Orleans Saints - Record: 6-9, Last Update: No. 15
23. San Francisco 49ers - Record: 7-8, Last Update: No. 21
24. Cleveland Browns - Record: 7-8, Last Update: No. 22
25. Minnesota Vikings - Record: 6-9, Last Update: No. 24
26. Washington Redskins - Record: 4-11, Last Update: No. 28
27. Chicago Bears - Record: 5-10, Last Update: No. 26
28. Oakland Raiders - Record: 3-12, Last Update: No. 31
29. New York Jets - Record: 3-12, Last Update: No. 27
30. Jacksonville Jaguars - Record: 3-12, Last Update: No. 29
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Record: 2-13, Last Update: No. 30
32. Tennessee Titans - Record: 2-13, Last Update: No. 32
-> Also, check out our weekly 2014-15 NBA Power Rankings
-> Your team out of the playoff hunt? Check out our 2015 NFL Mock Draft.