Here are the Rankings for Week 17:
1.) Denver (13-3) [no change]
I can't say I expected the Broncos to finish at the top of the Rankings in Peyton Manning's first season with the team. But I figured they'd be a decent team. So much for that, as they finished on an 11-game winning streak. It helped that their division was moribund; the other three teams had 13 wins between them. They have a first-round bye and home-field through the Championship game. So I would expect their prospects of making the Super Bowl to be pretty good.
2.) New England (12-4) [+2]
On the other hand, I'm sure most people expected the Patriots to be at or near the top. Much like their seeding, they're 2nd here as well. With a first-round bye in hand, I think they'll get healthy (or healthier) and make a run at another Super Bowl appearance. The AFC in general seems to be underrated, which can only be a good thing. I expect another Championship game for the Pats, if not another Super Bowl.
3.) Seattle (11-5) [+2]
A surprising finish for a team I thought wouldn't make the playoffs. Especially a team out of the NFC West, a division that looked like San Francisco and a bunch of slop. Luckily for Seattle, Russell Wilson has proven to be the real deal, especially at home. But therein lies a minor problem; Seattle won't be hosting a playoff game unless they're playing Minnesota in the NFC Championship. Ouch. If they make it out of Washington alive, I'd say they have a good chance of making it to the Super Bowl. I'm not entirely sold on Atlanta, and the Seahawks have already embarrassed San Francisco.
4.) Indianapolis (11-5) [+2]
Speaking of surprises...Andrew Luck was the difference between 2 wins and 11 wins. Of course, he had help from guys like Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, Donnie Avery, and Reggie Wayne. But it's a QB league and Luck rightly gets most of the credit for turning the Colts back into a winner after a lost season. They're one of the few teams I have actual confidence in. Can they beat Denver and New England to get to the Super Bowl, though? Probably not. But it's been a heck of a season for the Colts nonetheless.
5.) Green Bay (11-5) [-3]
I'm not sure what to think about the Packers. Obviously, they weren't the powerhouse that they were in 2011, and they're going into the playoffs on a downturn after losing to the Vikings. Luckily, they have a chance to right the ship against the team that just beat them. With something slightly more important on the line, I think Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the team will pull through. Most likely. As to their Super Bowl chances...well, just about any of the six could make it to the Super Bowl, really. As much as people have talked about NFC supremacy, the top two teams are vulnerable, and none of the six are a lock.
6.) Atlanta (13-3) [-3]
Sure, they had nothing to play for, but they could have had the best record in the NFL had they won. But even if they had beaten Tampa Bay as badly as they spanked the Giants, well, I doubt anyone would put much into it. The Falcons have to prove it on the field in the next couple weeks. They get a first-round bye and have home-field throughout, which puts them in excellent position. Matt Ryan is nearly unbeatable in the Georgia Dome during the regular season; at some point that has to translate into playoff success. Of course, thanks to leading the league for most of the season, expectations are probably higher than one win. I wouldn't say Super Bowl or bust; they should at least make the Championship game, though.
7.) San Francisco (11-4-1) [+1]
It seemed that making the switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick was motivated by a need for more downfield passing. Yet in the games I saw with Kaepernick at QB, I didn't see an increase in downfield passing. If there was, I guess it was in the 5-10% range. It wasn't like the 49ers suddenly became Air Coryell, or anything. They were mostly the same plodding, uninspired, run-oriented offense that they had been with Alex Smith at QB. Boring. Hopefully they loosen up and throw the ball down the field more. Otherwise, their opposition might just do what Seattle did and put the handcuffs on. Assuming Kaepernick is allowed to throw the ball, they've got a good chance of making the Super Bowl. That, and if they can avoid playing Seattle again.
8.) Minnesota (10-6) [+1]
Not sold on the Vikings, because they refuse to acknowledge the reality of the situation. Of course, the playoffs are a different animal, and maybe that will benefit them. But they're not built to take advantage of the rules. The rules state that downfield passing will be rewarded far more than running the ball. Christian Ponder isn't quite ready to do that. Even the great Adrian Peterson can't carry a team to a win if the opposition is bombing away, which one would expect Rodgers to do. I can't say "no chance", but it's close.
9.) Washington (10-6) [+1]
RGIII's first playoff run will most likely get derailed by Washington's suspect secondary. Other than that, the sky's the limit. It probably won't be the case for much longer after this season, as teams will have a year's worth of tape to dissect. Once that happens, Griffin and the Shanahans will have to adjust the offense to present a different look besides the pistol. I think if they get out of the first round, a long run could happen. But they could just as easily get shut down by any of the strong defenses they'll face.
10.) Houston (12-4) [-3]
The Texans had the top seed wrapped up; all they had to do was beat Minnesota and Indianapolis (again). They could do neither and end up third in the AFC. Thus, they are at the bottom, thanks to a crippling combination of bias and suck. I'll be eternally biased against the Texans, and they sucked in three of the last four weeks of this season. Hence they end up third in the AFC, a likely target for New England, where they will surely get destroyed (again), though they should have no problem with Cincinnati. Of course, me saying they'll have no problem with Cincy almost guarantees that the Bengals' D-line will crush Matt Schaub, doesn't it? For his sake, I hope he doesn't get crushed. But the Texans aren't getting past the divisional round.
That's all for this season. See you next season.
The playoffs start this weekend, so you should watch all the games.
Also, congratuations to the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals for making the playoffs. 12 teams make it and I only highlight the top 10 teams here, so there you go.