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NFL Power Rankings: Broncos, Patriots on AFC collision course

The elite eight.

Brooks: Divisional-round preview

Bucky Brooks examines the matchups and lays out

a path to championship weekend for each surviving playoff team. **More ...**

Usually it's a college basketball term -- not during the second week of January, and not when over half of those teams are fully capable of winning the whole Chalupa.

Let's be honest: Wild Card Weekend ended up being a platter full of snoozers. Nonetheless, the byproduct of those mostly one-sided affairs was some top-notch football from winners, especially the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Five of the last seven Super Bowl winners were forced to play in the opening round of the playoffs, and it's quite possible this year's champion could further the trend.

Of course, Denver -- and its football team, too -- might have something to say about that. In fact, I asked if the Broncos were the top club in the NFL Monday night on Twitter ...

A lot of people feel like Mr. Desert Storm right now. As far as Jonathan's question is concerned, I skipped the BCS National Championship Game to watch the new "Texas Chainsaw" movie. Just take away my man card now. My focus is on the NFL (except when cheesy, gratuitous, one-half star horror movies come out).

Still, the Broncos have, um, butchered opponents enough to retain their top status on a bye week. (Yes, I'll be here all week.) As for the rest of the list, feel free to provide your take: @HarrisonNFL is the dropbox.

Until then, let the dissension commence ...

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

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

Nothing has occurred to alter the perception in this space. Basically, the Denver Broncos are the best team in football until proven otherwise. Eleven wins in a row did much to change this writer's mind, but more importantly, having home-field advantage is huge, especially if the AFC Championship Game ends up being the New England-Denver clash everyone thinks it will be. Remember how different last season's Broncos looked in front of the home folks in the wild-card round versus the divisional game on the road (against the Patriots)? Granted, those were different opponents, and this is a different Denver team. But you get the point ...

... on to a different point. One concern could be the possibility of head-coaching opportunities becoming a distraction for offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Not saying that will happen, but it can happen. Stories abound about former Patriots head coach Bill Parcells taking calls from the New York Jets the week of Super Bowl XXXI, as his New England club was preparing to play the Green Bay Packers. Just saying, these guys are human, and McCoy has never been a head coach before. Wouldn't it be a distraction for you?

Bill Belichick was defensive coordinator on that aforementioned Parcells team 16 years ago, a team that didn't allow a lot of big plays. Hopefully, in the two weeks since the New England Patriots destroyed the Miami Dolphins, head coach Bill Belichick has worked with his assistants to figure out a way to at least slow down the Houston Texans' running game -- without giving up so many big plays on the back end, which has been a problem. It's been well-documented that the Patriots dominated Houston on Monday Night Football in Week 14. But this crappy secondary can't rest its hopes on Matt Schaub repeating the crappy outing (68.8 passer rating) he had that December night.

The Atlanta Falcons are a quality football team. There's no question about that. How quality is the question. The passing game has the necessary components -- name an organization that wouldn't want Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez at the skill positions. Matt Ryan was awesome in Weeks 15 and 16, posting passer ratings of 142.6 and, believe it or not, 142.6 again. Unfortunately, in the playoffs, Atlanta must run the ball, if for no other reason than to close out games. The ground "attack" has averaged 75.5 rushing yards per game at 3.5 yards per crack over the last four games. Yuck.

Oh, one more thing: How imposing would the Falcons be with a healthy Brent Grimes right now? Gooooood night.

How big a difference does Charles Woodson make on the Green Bay Packers' defense? Yeah, that was Joe Webb starting behind center for the Minnesota Vikings. Still, Woodson is like the queen on the chessboard for defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who moves the 15-year vet in all directions to disrupt offenses. Situational football: That's the NFL in 2012, folks. Meanwhile, No. 21 is still most effective when blitzing out of the slot, if you ask me ...

Pushing the Seattle Seahawks down a notch after a playoff road win is akin to complaining that a Bentley doesn't get good gas mileage, or that Christina Hendricks' tight top is too turquoise. Seattle has played such impressive team football that there's a growing feeling among those who cover the NFL that the Seahawks can beat anybody.

So, why the lower ranking? Chris Clemons' injury. He's defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's premium piece in pass-rushing situations (11.5 sacks), and his absence will be noticeable in Atlanta. Am I overreacting, 12th Man? Would love to hear your take: @HarrisonNFL is always listening.

The San Francisco 49ers got a week off, seemingly important to rest some hamstrings and the like. Nonetheless, the two players who come to mind immediately are Frank Gore and Justin Smith. Gore might be the most underrated player in pro football. Sound like an exaggeration? No way. He eclipsed 1,200 rushing yards at 4.7 yards per carry even though teams often knew he was getting the football. Back in the days before Adrian Peterson pushed over defenders like they were standing on an imaginary fiscal cliff, 4.7 yards a pop used to be pretty damn stellar. He must be fresh.

Then there's Smith. When he's right, he's the best inside-outside D-lineman in pro football. Not sure how much two weeks can do for a torn triceps, but his health IER presence will do much for Aldon Smith on passing downs.

The Houston Texans' ground game dominated the Cincinnati Bengals' front seven in the wild-card round. It might not excite the 15-year-olds out there who have only grown up with the Matthew Staffords of the world throwing 41 touchdown passes, a bevy of 5,000-yard passers and all the various facets of flag football in the NFL these days. Who cares? Running effectively, especially with a guy like Arian Foster, still has its place. Gary Kubiak's offense carried the rock a whopping 39 times against Cincy. The Texans also busted six runs of 10-plus yards. You want to slow down Tom Brady? Limit his possessions. Run the football. Clock ball, baby.

The Baltimore Ravens see the most movement in this special Playoff Edition of the Power Rankings, and it's deserved. Here's what did not suck about Baltimore's big win:

A) Andrew Luck barely completed 50 percent of his passes, while averaging a miniscule 5.3 yards per throw.

B) Everything Anquan Boldin.

C) The Ravens only asked Joe Flacco to drop back 24 times, essentially making it a team game and not a quarterback game.

... Now, just so we're not totally Positive Perry here, it's important to note that the run defense is still struggling. The Colts and their mediocre (if that) offensive line pushed around Baltimore's front seven enough to rack up over 150 yards rushing at 5.1 yards per carry. Can't have that happen against Denver, with a resurgent Knowshon Moreno in the backfield.

Elliot Harrison is an analyst on NFL Network's NFL Fantasy Live show, weekdays at 1 p.m. ET and Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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