All of a sudden, the regular season is over. So as I end this season's version of the Rankings, I have most of the playoff teams in. The only ones not in are Green Bay and (of course) Seattle. Let's go!
1.) New England (14-2) [no change]
After trading away Randy Moss, losing to the Jets and Cleveland, and remolding their offense around a couple rookie TE's, an undrafted RB, and another RB they picked up off the street, I could hardly imagine the Patriots would be the best team in the NFL. That said, they still have one of the top two QB's in the league in Tom Brady, and the defense, while not as great as it was when they were winning Super Bowls, is steadily improving. With homefield throughout the playoffs, the Patriots are the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Having been unbeaten over the last couple months and taking out a bunch of playoff teams helps.
2.) Atlanta (13-3) [no change]
Despite falling on their faces against New Orleans last week, the Falcons recovered by taking out a patsy. Now they have the top seed in the NFC and homefield throughout. I find it hard to believe that they could get beat again, but I don't have quite as much faith as I do in the Patriots. Mostly because nobody has beaten the Patriots in awhile (though Green Bay with Matt Flynn gave it a good run). The Falcons have a solid defense and a bruising running game, plus they're nearly unbeatable at home. All in all, it looks good for the Falcons to advance.
3.) Pittsburgh (12-4) [+1]
Since the Steelers won the AFC North, I moved them up above Baltimore. They look pretty solid as well, especially since Troy Polamalu came back after sitting out a couple games. Like the two teams above them, they have a week off just to make sure everyone is rested and healthy. I like their chances to advance, because their defense is fierce and Rashard Mendenhall is a tough runner. Also, they've been there, done that; Ben Roethlisberger has a couple rings and coach Mike Tomlin has a ring too.
4.) Baltimore (12-4) [-1]
While they're going in as a Wild Card, I can't deny that the Ravens are a dangerous team. Even with some of their defensive lapses (especially against the Texans, ouch), they're still a strong team. Billy Cundiff had 40 touchbacks; any kickoff is virtually guaranteed to have no return. Ray Rice is ready to go, and Joe Flacco seems ready to have more of the offense go through him. With that receiving corps, Flacco should be able to have success.
5.) NY Jets (11-5) [+3]
I guess sitting Mark Sanchez worked out. Hopefully he's healthy for this week's Wild Card game...I wouldn't want any of them making excuses about not being able to take out Indy because their QB wasn't up to snuff. Let's face it, though, Rex and co.'s struggles with the Colts have little to do with their offense. Peyton Manning has their defense figured out, if the record is any indication. I think the Jets are one-and-done as a result.
6.) Indianapolis (10-6) [+4]
After starting the season in surprisingly un-Colts-like fashion, and suffering a barrel full of injuries, a four game winning streak has propelled elder Manning and the rest of his backups masquerading as starters into the playoffs. Now they host the Jets, and I like their chances. Peyton Manning has owned Rex Ryan's defenses, both in NYC and Baltimore, and even though he doesn't have Austin Collie or Dallas Clark, Blair White and Jacob Tamme have been performing admirably as their replacements. Plus, he still has Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Not to mention an RB tandem of Joseph Addai and recently returned Dominic Rhodes. The occasionally suspect defense has stiffened up in recent games as well; they've stopped the rushing attacks of Oakland, Jacksonville, and Tennessee, all of whom have top-flight RB's. Does all this mean they'll beat Pittsburgh or New England? Maybe not, but I'm betting they could put a scare into them.
7.) New Orleans (11-5) [-2]
If you believe in momentum, then the Saints are not at their best right now. They weren't at their best ending last season either, and look how that turned out. So I guess momentum isn't particularly important. While they might not have momentum, they do have Drew Brees and three healthy RB's. Their defense is solid too. Despite having to go into Seattle for their first playoff game, I like their chances. They already beat Seattle this season.
8.) Chicago (11-5) [-2]
Despite having nothing to play for, the Bears played a hard-fought game and lost to the Packers. They were locked into the second seed anyway, guaranteeing them a bye and a home game next weekend. I'm not quite sold on them moving on. We'll see what happens, though.
9.) Kansas City (10-6) [-2]
One of the most disappointing performances this week. The Chiefs played poorly in a loss to Oakland, and they have Baltimore coming into KC this week. Anything can happen, of course, but I don't like the odds of the Chiefs moving on.
10.) Philadelphia (10-6) [-1]
Another season, another loss to Dallas. Of course, that's what happens when you rest Vick in favor of Kevin Kolb. Suddenly, though, the Eagles are looking a little vulnerable. They didn't manage much with Kolb, and the game before exposed a weakness to corner/safety blitzes. Green Bay will come with pressure from all over, including LB Clay Matthews. How Michael Vick responds to that pressure could determine if the Eagles move on. I like their chances.
Thanks for reading. See you next season.