NFL Power Rankings: Jaguars raging into Championship Sunday

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The throw won't be celebrated in Canton ...

The football came off the hand of an undrafted Case Keenum, a rookie -- for all intents and purposes, as he'd spent his entire first year on the practice squad -- keeping an undermanned and overwhelmed Texans team in a game against Bruce Arians' Cardinals. This was before Keenum got mixed up with the litany of mediocre Houston quarterbacks. Before he was seemingly knocked out, but not pulled out, in a 2015 Rams game in Baltimore. Before he helped the 2016 Rams to a 3-1 start only to eventually lose his job to the No. 1 overall pick. And, of course, before he delivered the "Minnesota Miracle" to stun the Saints this past Sunday.

Before all that, Keenum threw an absolute dime of a touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, a ball that couldn't have been placed any better if Keenum had walked over and handed it to the Texans' franchise wide receiver:

That's when I first thought this kid belonged.

One week prior, Keenum had racked up 350 yards and three touchdown passes (against zero picks) on the Colts. But the game in Arizona, which actually ended up being a Texans loss, was when I really took notice of Keenum. He went on to throw two more TD strikes on the Cards, displaying a pluckiness I couldn't help but love. Houston waived him nine months later, but I always remembered that random Sunday in the desert.

Now, Keenum belongs in the MVP conversation. So, does a fella whose team didn't win Sunday. On that note, here's my top five for NFL MVP:

1) Carson Wentz: The Eagles' offense went kaplooey without him.
2) Todd Gurley: Led the league in scrimmage yards and touchdowns. Made the Rams' offense go.
3) Tom Brady: Could argue he should be over Gurley. Didn't enjoy a great December.
4) Antonio Brown: The Steelers' ability to win without him keeps the game's best receiver from being No. 1.
5) Case Keenum: He belongs here. Case closed.

As for the rankings of teams, take a gander downstairs. Each of the Divisional Round participants are detailed. None of them are shortchanged. Don't spare any of your feedback, including your take on an interesting MVP race: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for the "NFL Power Rankings" show. Want to add YOUR voice? Provide your thoughts at the bottom of this page or tweet @HarrisonNFL, and your comments could be featured on air.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Divisional Round Power Rankings.

RANK

1

14-3 PATRIOTS

If you'd told a Patriots fans in August that the road to the Super Bowl would go through the Titans and Jaguars, they would have laughed out loud, dropped a Jäger shot into their Mean Old Tom and thrown their Irving Fryar Starting Lineup figurine at you. Most impressive from New England's decisive victory over the Titans was the answer to Tennessee's first touchdown drive: seven plays, 73 yards and no third downs. Zoom! Right down the field, with six of the seven plays going to the running backs. Dion Lewis has been a total stud for the last month. And what more can you say about Matt Patricia's defense, which has allowed 15.4 points per game since Deshaun Watson torched the Patriots in Week 3? Imagine that. All Tom Brady and the offense have to do to have a chance to win these days is put two touchdowns and a field goal on the board. Don't imagine anyone ruining a wonderful stout beer with Jäger, though. Unless they're 22.

RANK

2

14-3 VIKINGS

Seen a few unforgettable endings during my time covering the NFL, and as a fan for over 30 years ... none of which were more shocking than the "Minneapolis Miracle," "Skol Mary," "Whiff Six," or whatever else people are calling Stefon Diggs' improbable touchdown. The original Hail Mary, from Roger Staubach's hand to Drew Pearson's hip to beat the Vikings also came in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, in the 1975 edition. Yet, the only two hair-raising endings I've seen that can match what went down Sunday afternoon are the Music City Miracle and Malcolm Butler's game-ending pick in Super Bowl XLIX. The former is the only play in postseason history that seemed as impossibly executed. And now Minnesota heads to its ninth conference championship game (10th, if you count the 1969 NFL title game). While we're here, someone should mention how on-point Case Keenum's throw was on that final play. That ball was right where it needed to be, with Keenum not the least bit shaken by the Saints' pass rush rattling his cage repeatedly in the second half.

RANK

3

12-6 JAGUARS

3

Much respect -- and apologies -- to Blake Bortles. I thought he could beat the Steelers with his legs, not his throws. The Jaguars advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the Brunell/Taylor/Smith/McCardell/Boselli era on the strength of Bortles' arm and an opportunistic defense. The win over the Steelers surprised everyone, and not because Jacksonville won. Rather, it was because it resulted from the efforts of the most-maligned quarterback in America, and in spite of the defense allowing 42 points. Before we leave this blurb, though, a tip of the cap to T.J. Yeldon, who channeled his inner Dion Lewis to hurt Pittsburgh on huge third downs.

RANK

4

14-3 EAGLES

3

After hearing for a week that they were the first home underdog yada yada yada in however many years, the Eagles' defense crushed it. What a performance, from the coverage, to the push from the interior ( Hi, I'm Fletcher Cox. I'm better than your offensive linemen), to tightening up when it mattered most. Twitter movie critics can comment all day long about the Falcons' play-calling, but here's the deal with that: If you don't like the roll-out on fourth-and-the-game, perhaps you can also credit Philadelphia for blanketing Matt Ryan's options.

Trivia: Everyone remembers the Eagles' three straight NFC Championship Game losses in the early 2000s as a massive organizational failure. But in reality, one of the games was not. No one thought Philadelphia could beat the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams in the 2001 NFC title match. They almost did, when, down 29-24, just before the two-minute warning, a certain defensive end came within an eyelash of blocking a Rams punt deep in St. Louis territory. It would have either been a special teams touchdown or, at the very least, a safety and the ball back. Who was the player? (@HarrisonNFL)

RANK

5

13-4 STEELERS

2

Much chagrin over the Steelers' decisions in the loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, almost like an echo chamber to the Falcons' choices across the state on Saturday. Pittsburgh elected not to have its quarterback with the body of a defensive end lunge forward to gain a couple of feet on a key fourth down late. The onside kick that came later seemed particularly egregious. At least the Jags had strong coverage on Ben Roethlisberger's throw on the aforementioned play, whereas the kick was delivered poorly, done in before it ever started, with Chris Boswell's dribbler hitting his own guy before it travelled the required 10 yards. The sour takes on Mike Tomlin's game management came fast and furious (some worse than the movie series), although the play call lands squarely on offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Beneath all that was a defense that couldn't buy a stop. That was the difference in keeping Pittsburgh from going to the AFC Championship Game.

RANK

6

12-6 SAINTS

2

Sunday's loss will take many moons to get over. Saints fans felt much of what their counterparts endured eight years ago, when Brett Favre uncorked that ill-advised ball over the middle into Tracy Porter's waiting arms in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. That contest looked lost for New Orleans until then; this Divisional Round game looked won. But the important things to note are clear: The Saints will be back, as Drew Brees just turned in a stellar second half of the season (I can't imagine him not retiring a Saint), and the roster is chock full of young talent ( Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Marshon Lattimore, for starters). Someone who is part of that bright nucleus took the full blame for the loss: safety Marcus Williams. Couldn't agree more with those defending Williams in the aftermath, including Saints fans. It's never been more challenging to play safety in the NFL than it is now, with so many rules covering how you can defend, or hit, a receiver. It was clear Williams was trying to avoid a penalty; he simply arrived at the scene of the catch too soon. Call it a perfect storm -- or imperfect, in this case -- that let Stefon Diggs and the Vikings advance.

RANK

7

11-7 FALCONS

2

Ineffectiveness on offense undermined the Falcons in Philadelphia, sending Dan Quinn's team packing for the offseason. Which means that the anxiety over Kyle Shanahan's departure as offensive coordinator was somewhat realized. The attack looked more like a faint charge for much of the 2017 season, at least as compared to the world-class track team that was going up and down the field in '16. Two points to consider here. First: Where is talk of Matt Ryan's culpability amid all the rancor? Ryan, frankly, missed on a lot of throws this year, and he looked closer to the guy from 2010 than the 2016 MVP: a solid player, but not transcendent. Second point: I've maintained all year that Atlanta's talent lay more with the defense. Look at the secondary. The linebackers can fly. And the pass rush was a huge factor in the Falcons making the postseason in the first place.

RANK

8

10-8 TITANS

I'm gonna miss the Titans. Let's just pretend Saturday night never happened. After Corey Davis' touchdown provided a spark of excitement that Tennessee could deliver the upset of the century (that might be an exaggeration, but could you imagine a repeat of the 1999 AFC Championship Game?), bad things started happening. Like Derrick Henry running backward on fourth-and-short, Jack Conklin departing the game early, the offensive line turning into a turnstile, Marcus Mariota acquainting himself with the Gillette rug and the Titans being down 28-7 by the end of the third. There was no coming back. Not from that deficit, not against that team, not with that offense. Which is the complaint you'll hear much about in the coming months. Whomever the Titans hire to replace Mike Mularkey, those barking for an offensive guru (in the mold of future Colts coach Josh McDaniels) should try to remember that the duties of head coaches go beyond just play-calling (if they even do that part of the job), to setting the tone for an organization. Who could blame Mularkey if the way this process played out caused enough discord for him and the team to part ways? Whether he was the right man for the job going forward or not is certainly up for debate, but you can't discount going 9-7 in back-to-back seasons and reaching the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Good luck finding another Tennessee coach who managed such a feat this decade. Either way, nice season, Titans.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL. And be sure to tune in to the "NFL Power Rankings" show on NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET.

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