NFL Power Rankings: Steelers, Packers streak into final four

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Championship Sunday is nigh!

As a kid, this was my favorite football Sunday of the year. Playing for a ticket to the Super Bowl -- and deciding conference supremacy -- was enough to fire anybody up. But the other cool part was that, so often in the '80s, one of the teams was a pretty big underdog: the '83 Seahawks, '84 Bears and Steelers, '86 Redskins, '89 Rams. Too bad all those teams got Rickrolled. Yet, every once in a while, a squad like the '85 Patriots would roll all the way to the Super Bowl -- then get crushed there.

That's just not the case this year. Each of the four teams playing in the two conference championship games features a premier quarterback and an offense that can put up points in flurries. And the road teams are simply too strong. Le'Veon Bell has been the best RB in the league (sorry, Zeke and D.J.) over the last eight games, while we're all wondering what's coming next from Aaron Rodgers' soaring legend.

Brett Favre also beat the Falcons the next season, in the '95 Wild Card Round. That was the first of three postseason tilts between those two franchises, with the Pack holding a 2-1 edge. But is Green Bay the stronger team right now? See below. Your thoughts are welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Jan. 10 Power Rankings.

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1

15-2 PATRIOTS

Interesting that everyone thinks the Patriots played beneath themselves against the Texans. Oh, sure, Bill Belichick agrees, but he would find fault in a 46-16 win, methinks. New England "only" won 34-16. Look across that roster, man. Where are the big names? Outside of Tom Brady, New England's made up of many good players who are well-coached and work in cohesion. The Pats' second-most talented player is Gronk-spiking on IR. Not to mention, the Texans have significant talent of their own. You think Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and DeAndre Hopkins can't play? It goes to show how well-managed your football team is when it is perceived to not be playing up to snuff, yet puts up 34 and wins by three scores against a division champ. OK, so this would be an appropriate time to insert the "But Osweiler" Axiom.

RANK

2

13-5 STEELERS

1

By now, all of the questions about this squad should be answered. Can the Steelers win against top competition on the road? Check. Is the defense capable of winning a game by itself when the offense sputters? Check. Does Pittsburgh have the best player in the game? With apologies to all those who say it is unequivocally Aaron Rodgers, this is more than arguable. Here's a rundown of Le'Veon Bell's scrimmage yards over the last eight games: 201, 142, 182, 298, 131, 137, 174 and 166. That's not great production, that's Herculean production. You know, like best-player-in-the-game stuff. And if you think Bell can't essentially win a game by himself -- like a quarterback -- go watch the highlight of Steelers-Chargers from last season.

RANK

3

12-5 FALCONS

2

While watching the Falcons' rushing tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman on Saturday, I started wondering, somewhere in the second half, which remaining defense is most capable of halting these guys? My guess: New England. Team I didn't consider: Green Bay. With all of the Packers' coverage problems (and health issues) in the secondary, putting Freeman outside with Coleman in the backfield could be a viable tool come Sunday. Of course, if Green Bay puts a linebacker on either, it's a mismatch. Interesting those Packers will be coming to town with the guy most are calling the best quarterback in the game right now. Yet, the first-team All-Pro QB plays for Atlanta. Helluva way to close out a stadium.

RANK

4

12-6 PACKERS

2

The boogieman always gets more than just the dude with the sleeveless puffy jacket (the Lions). No, he usually takes out the gal in the laundry room, too (the Cowboys, and their untimely penalties). Well, at least Michael Myers did. I've watched the rolling-to-the-left-40-yard-laser too many times to hope Byron Jones doesn't let Jared Cook behind him, and it still hasn't gotten any less impressive. There is no overselling the difficulty of that pass. After two days of thinking about it, here is where I would put Rodgers' effort among the greatest postseason throws:

1) Manning to Manningham, Super Bowl XLVI.
2) Rodgers to Cook, Sunday.
3) Dawson to Taylor, out of the Chiefs' end zone, 1969 AFL Championship.
4) Bradshaw to Swann, 64-yard touchdown, Super Bowl X.
5) Montana to Clark ("The Catch"), 1981 NFC Championship Game.

That's what I would say today.

RANK

5

13-4 COWBOYS

3

Tough loss Sunday, although not as gut-wrenching as the 2007 Divisional Round loss to the Giants. Aaron Rodgers, a probable first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, made a Hall of Ridiculous throw in a game where both teams showed immense character. The '07 failure was marred by a flat start and dropped footballs. Tony Romo started that game and, a decade later, will probably start elsewhere. Worth wondering: If Romo had thrown those three touchdowns and one pick -- like Dak Prescott did Sunday -- would the highlight shows have led with the interception instead of the comeback? OK, let's push it forward. Here are Dallas' offseason needs: QB2, DE, RT, CB and _________ (Hit me with your suggestions: @HarrisonNFL).

RANK

6

12-5 CHIEFS

2

Justin Houston deserved better than to be caught one-on-one with Antonio Brown on that fly pattern. Oh, boy. And then, on the game's most important third down, we saw Brown speeding across the field -- and right past Houston -- for a clinching first down. Those plays were big asks of big No. 50, as was Houston asking Travis Kelce to keep his marbles Sunday evening. It's that kind of leadership from Houston that will keep Kansas City hungry in 2017. Heck, more than leadership. Remember, the Chiefs didn't have Houston's services for 11 games this season. Nor did they have Derrick Johnson when they needed him most: on any one of Le'Veon Bell's 30 carries. These guys will be back. Jamaal Charles? Different question.

RANK

7

11-6-1 SEAHAWKS

Concerning -- or not so concerning? -- discussion on NFL Network this Monday regarding the Seahawks' "window closing." Don't see it myself. In fact, I think this team will be even more primed to make a run in 2017. The oldest top-shelf player is Michael Bennett, who is only 31 and still playing at a high level. Jared Allen piled up 11.5 sacks at age 31; Julius Peppers logged 11. The vast majority of Seattle's cornerstone players are under contract. Thomas Rawls won't be starting the year on the shelf. C.J. Prosise will be healthy, too. And the 49ers and Rams seem more than a year away. Oh, and Seattle can draft another offensive lineman. We'll stop.

RANK

8

10-8 TEXANS

Let the hand-wringing over Brock Osweiler begin. Let the rampant Romo speculation begin. Although, honestly, I don't see Romo to Houston happening. The Texans are locked into Brock of Ages for, well, not that long, but another year. And though this team is close enough with a healthy J.J. Watt and crew that Romo could make a tremendous impact, it would be a huge risk. The conservative play would be to see what you can still get out of Osweiler. The guy has only started 23 games in the NFL. The intriguing part of the Texans' quarterback discussion is how much consideration Tom Savage will get in 2017. No matter who plays, Houston would benefit from Lamar Miller becoming a true bell-cow back, capable of carrying 20 per and starting 16 per.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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