NFL Power Rankings: Ravens, Panthers fly into Divisional Round

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We have thrown the NFL Postseason Power Rankings out there. You'd better read them before we pick 'em up ...

Yes, everyone's still talking about Sunday's flag fiasco in Dallas. The Lions got jobbed, at least in the eyes of many, in a game as hotly contested as the Chiefs-Colts wild-card bout one year ago. For details on the play, please read the Lions blurb below. I, too, thought Detroit deserved better, but my reasoning's different than what you've heard elsewhere.

Now, if we really want to talk about playoff pass interference ...

Well, then ... Apparently, I wasn't alone in recalling that infamous non-call, which ironically occurred almost 20 years ago to the day. Need a jog down memory lane? Take a look:

Yes, that "Prime Time" arm bar impacted the outcome of the 1994 NFC Championship Game -- and the Cowboys' shot at an unprecedented threepeat. With Dallas down 38-28 and half the fourth quarter to play, a touchdown would have pulled the Cowboys within three. Instead Deion Sanders' obvious PI on Michael Irvin -- committed inside the 5-yard line, by the way -- was never called. (Hey, at least it wasn't called and then picked up, right?)

That controversial Sanders-Irvin play was impactful, but it did not decide the day. No, three Cowboy turnovers in the first few minutes of the game accomplished that. Similarly, Sunday's controversial call/non-call didn't bury Detroit. The Lions still had the lead, and they still had eight minutes with which to go win that game.

On the subject of the Lions, we have them as the best team to lose on Wild Card Weekend. What a solid season for the men in Honolulu Blue -- a campaign that should earn Jim Caldwell some Coach of the Year mention.

How does everyone else stack up? Well, you'll have to take a look below. And as you'll see, we're only ranking the teams that made the postseason tourney. Like the league, the Power Rankings whittle down the participant pool in the new year. As always, feel free to share your take on our take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

Elliot Harrison explains his ranking process on "The Power Rankings Show" and serves as lead analyst on the "Team Report Cards" series, which you can watch at NFL.com/NOW or via the NFL NOW app. Follow Elliot on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

(NOTE: Arrows reflect change in standings from the most recent Power Rankings.)

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RANK

1

12-4 SEAHAWKS

No reason to tilt the king from his perch, so to speak. Although it would be interesting to know how the Seahawks' coaching brass viewed Cardinals-Panthers from the top of the mountain. The 'Hawks know they have home-field advantage, and they're cognizant of the limitations in Carolina's passing game, but the strength of the Panthers' front seven has to be a concern. On that note, how will Carolina play Russell Wilson on third down? More on that in Thursday's Game Picks column.

RANK

2

12-4 PATRIOTS

As much as Tom Brady is still a strong MVP candidate -- at least to me -- the Patriots' current blueprint for winning harks back to their glory days in the early-to-mid 2000s, as opposed to the approach from more recent years. This squad can run the football and play defense, meaning much of Brady's game will be about knowing when to eat it and live to play another down.

RANK

3

12-4 PACKERS

Having the week off is nice, especially with an ailing quarterback. Of course, it's even nicer to be hosting a playoff game in sub-freezing temperatures. Cowboys-Packers -- what's being billed as the "Ice Bowl II" -- promises to be an event. Interesting that if you talk to older Packer players, they will tell you the 1966 NFL Championship Game -- in which Green Bay beat Dallas at the Cotton Bowl to advance to Super Bowl I, the year before "The Ice Bowl" -- was, in fact, a better contest.

RANK

4

12-4 BRONCOS

1

Denver moves up a notch after getting a week's worth of rest. It's also another week for Peyton Manning to, in theory, get some strength back on his throws -- as well as another week to get Ronnie Hillman reincorporated into the offense. The Broncos could be leaning on the C.J. Anderson-Hillman committee a lot more than anticipated. Running the football and playing defense (which the Broncos can do) isn't the worst thing. After all, that is the formula Seattle used to annihilate Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.

RANK

5

13-4 COWBOYS

1

Huge win for the Cowboys on Sunday, no doubt. If they're going to do that at Lambeau, then a) the defense must survive the first half, and b) DeMarco Murray has to be fully ready. He looked banged up versus the Lions. Everyone I work with (and talk to) is excited about this game. The history, Romo vs. Rodgers, the quality of the teams -- it's all there. My guess, though, is that Cowboys fans are more worried about this contest than potentially playing in Seattle again. Just a guess.

RANK

6

11-6 RAVENS

7

Surprised? Don't be. The Ravens played a complete game in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, and they have the potential to be effective in all three phases. Ironic that the strength of the team this season, Justin Forsett, struggled mightily in the wild-card win. If Forsett plays well in New England -- and if the secondary can at least hold the fort -- the outcome could well rest on the kicking game ... and this time, fans in Baltimore should have confidence. ( Justin Tucker > Billy Cundiff.)

RANK

7

12-5 COLTS

2

Indy is Indy. Andrew Luck masks much of the team's deficiencies, yet when the defense shows up, this team can surprise people. Can coach Chuck Pagano's defense do it in Denver? Tackling will be paramount to the Colts' success, as you know the Broncos will execute a number of screens and short passes to wideouts and backs. Get Demaryius Thomas' butt on the ground on those bubble screens, Colts DBs.

RANK

8

8-8-1 PANTHERS

9

Somebody wake up Carolina and tell the Panthers they started the season 3-8-1. Or don't. Ron Rivera's group suddenly has become a fun one to keep your eye on. Obviously, the defense has been a huge factor, but running back Jonathan Stewart's productivity can't be denied. On another note, can any Panthers fans explain to me why they were having Cam Newton take seven-step drops when the only way Arizona was going to score was via a turnover? The Panthers were practically begging for a strip sack, when all they had to do was run three times into the line, burn clock and play some D. Any explanation will do. (@HarrisonNFL)

RANK

9

11-6 LIONS

2

Would everyone quit giving Lions coach Jim Caldwell grief about not going for it on fourth down? He was relying on his defense and clearly wasn't anticipating a 10-yard slice job from his punter.

As for the subject of the picked-up-flag fiasco, I watched the entire play about 10 times Sunday night. Here's my humble opinion on what happened: Anthony Hitchens held Brandon Pettigrew. Foul. Then Pettigrew interfered with Hitchens, tugging on his face mask as the ball left Matthew Stafford's hand. Foul. Hitchens did grab Pettigrew's arm, but it was in an attempt to regain balance after taking a hand to the face. The call should have been offsetting penalties, replay third down -- not defensive pass interference. Dez Bryant absolutely could've been called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but as NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino explained Monday, that is at the official's discretion. In summation, the Lions did get the short end of the stick -- instead of fourth-and-1, at the very least it should have been third-and-1, replay the down.

RANK

10

11-6 STEELERS

4

Tough to watch the Steelers play sans Le'Veon Bell. Sure, injuries are part of the game, but you hate seeing an elite player get hurt days before the playoffs start. I'm curious how many Pittsburgh fans thought Bruce Gradkowski should have stayed in the game, given the shot Ben Roethlisberger took.

RANK

11

10-6-1 BENGALS

Another squad missing players it so badly needed ... The Bengals ran into both some Colts and some ghosts Sunday, becoming the first team in NFL history to lose its playoff opener in four straight seasons. This also makes six playoff losses for Marvin Lewis in as many tries. Neither he nor Andy Dalton will be winning many votes of confidence. The question here is, do you change little and keep winning 10 games per season, or do you blow up a large portion of the roster in hopes of building a different kind of team?

RANK

12

11-6 CARDINALS

4

Feeling sorry for Ryan Lindley, who was thrust into the starting role, might not be the hot sports take of the day, but oh well. Everyone -- everyone -- doubted his ability to lead this team anywhere over the past few weeks. And watching him predetermine where to go with the football Saturday, especially on that impactful throw that hit Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly right between the numbers, I wondered how much of that stuff got into Lindley's head. I hope he rebounds. As for the Cardinals and my general thoughts on Bruce Arians, watch here.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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