Power Rankings  

 

Power Rankings: Niners rolling right into Championship Sunday

Not sure if you've heard this, but the AFC Championship Game will be Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Did you know that Brady was once a sixth-round draft pick? Or that Manning "makes everyone around him better"?

While we're at it, I bet you didn't know that Colin Kaepernick doesn't wear sleeves when it's cold. Or that Russell Wilson is 5-foot-11.

Oh, and by the way, Jerome Bettis is from Detroit ... OK, we'll stop. But get ready for a whole heckuva lot of storylines that you've heard over and over. That's the downside of such tantalizing conference championship matchups. The upside? Well, they're amazing matchups. And so we've decided to do a Championship Sunday version of NFL Power Rankings.

Yes. But only because you named your cat Rob Ninkovich (seriously). Do you have a dog named Rosie Colvin?

I prefer "Amish sex symbol," but let's face it: Luck was no John Book. My cousin works for an airline and has long, curly gray hair with a mustache -- he has been asked on flights if he is one of those Civil War reenactors.

The divisional round might not have provided a reenactment of the stellar Wild Card Weekend, but there were some entertaining games on the slate ... Saints at Seahawks for one. Chargers at Broncos was particularly enjoyable. Who thought San Diego would play this well back when the Bolts were losing at Washington and Miami in November? For that matter, where do the Chargers rank now? See below. All eight teams that made it to the divisional round are stacked.

As always, feel free to share your take ... @Harrison_NFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence ...

(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)

PAST: Wk. 19 | 18 | 17 | 16 |15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1

RANK

1

14-3 BRONCOS

Give the Broncos a ton of credit for that win Sunday. So it wasn't a dominant victory. Guess what? No one was going to dominate that San Diego football team. Denver took it to the Bolts, particularly via the pass rush. And that's really the key going forward. Can the front seven collapse the pocket around Tom Brady while not letting LeGarrette Blount go all John Riggins on them? We think so ... we think.

RANK

2

14-3 SEAHAWKS

No movement for the Seahawks, who did what they were supposed to do at home, efficiently and -- for the most part -- effectively. Sure, there was the late breakdown, but our top-ranked team experienced the same. That's why the San Francisco 49ers are not leapfrogging either Seattle or Denver in our Power Rankings: A hot Philip Rivers and a likely Hall of Famer in Drew Brees are a bit tougher to face than Cam Newton. By the way, how about the job the Seahawks did in stonewalling the "unstoppable" Jimmy Graham (one catch for 8 yards)? Methinks the Saints tight end is not so unstoppable. #LOB>Graham

RANK

3

14-4 49ERS

1

The best road team in the NFL, at least right now, clearly passed the test Sunday. What a second half for the potential six-time champion 49ers ... Say what? Yep, it sure looks possible. We can't lift them beyond No. 3 yet, but strong consideration was given after Jim Harbaugh's group walked into Carolina and delivered the only away victory of the divisional round. Do you realize that, since their eight-game winning streak started in late November, the Niners have averaged 31.6 rushing attempts per contest? San Francisco has run for the most yards (1,084) in the NFL over this time span.

RANK

4

13-4 PATRIOTS

1

Speaking of running the football, here's the stat of the week (or month). Over their past three outings, the Patriots have 123 rushing attempts and 75 pass attempts. Let the networks hype up Brady vs. Manning all they want; the ground attack is notching wins for New England. As for Tom Brady (oh, yeah ... him), he's dealing with some missing players in the air game. Don't expect that to deter him as he starts his eighth career AFC title match.

RANK

5

12-6 SAINTS

1

New Orleans subtly jumps a spot by virtue of playing with a lot of pride in the second half in Seattle on Saturday. Let's not forget that the Saints were the walking wounded on defense this year, with new coordinator Rob Ryan overcoming injuries to Victor Butler, Will Smith, Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson, Kenny Vaccaro and Parys Haralson. Yet, there the Saints were, throwing awful forward laterals in an attempt to tie things up in the final seconds with the Seahawks. In other words, New Orleans was down by just one score in the toughest place to play in the NFL.

RANK

6

12-5 PANTHERS

3

Tough drop for the Panthers, but given the way the other teams competed last weekend, as well as the manner in which Carolina plummeted in the second half against San Francisco, we had little choice. Yes, the Panthers won the NFC South, but they split the season series with the Saints ... and they were destroyed in the Week 14 loss in New Orleans. Love what "Riverboat" Ron Rivera has accomplished with the organization, but the Panthers are lacking in skins on the wall. One good year does not a great team make. That said, considering the defensive nucleus -- which is more than just Luke Kuechly -- it's difficult not to expect Carolina to be a top-10 team going forward. We'll address that -- as well as free agent Greg Hardy -- in our post-Super Bowl Power Rankings.

RANK

7

10-8 CHARGERS

It's hard enough going into Denver, where the Broncos routinely score gobs of touchdowns and keep opposing defenses on their heels, but to do so with a bunch of backups? Thought Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano did a heckuva job Sunday, given who he had available. In truth, San Diego's defense didn't play up to expectations this season, but Pagano's group really made up for it over the last six games, allowing an average of 17.5 points.

RANK

8

12-6 COLTS

Love Andrew Luck, but at some point, he's going to have to limit the turnovers. In the wild-card round, everyone was wowed by Luck's comeback in Chiefs-Colts and bored with the efficient play of Philip Rivers in Chargers-Bengals. Yet, the latter quarterback didn't make the kinds of mistakes that would have put his team in a bad spot in the first place. The key with Luck is to understand that he has played just two years in the league. However, that also means that we should tap the brakes with regard to the "great" tags.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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