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NFL Power Rankings: Giants up, Raiders down entering playoffs

Welp, the 97th NFL regular season is in the books.

That means 20 teams are searching for answers. (Or "know" them, and need to wait eight months to prove they're right.) The other dozen teams are preparing for the Super Bowl tournament. And a few great ones announced they won't be a part of the NFL's 98th season. Each of these things came to pass in Week 17. Speaking of pass ...

My favorite part of Week 17:Tony Romo's touchdown pass. Talk about a walk-off, drop-the-mic moment.

My least favorite part of Week 17:David Johnson hurting his knee on the last day of the season.

The inevitable: Even the best call it a day at some point. That includes Gary Kubiak, Robert Mathis and most notably ...


It's truly a new year in pro football without one of the toughest wide receivers in NFL history, a pass rusher who excelled for 13 seasons with the team that drafted him and as classy a head coach as you will ever meet. With that said, where do their teams -- the Ravens, Colts and Broncos -- currently sit? Funny enough, they are all right next to each other below. What about everyone else? Inquiring minds want to know!!

Yes. Too many Appletini's delayed the publishing of this week's Power Rankings. But here they are! Your take is welcome, as always: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Dec. 27 Power Rankings.

So much for the Patriots not stepping on the gas pedal. Goodness gracious. Tom Brady went a ho-hum 25 of 33 for 276 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Leggie Blount walked in for his 18th rushing touchdown of the season. Like anyone predicted that. And while we're riding the nobody-saw-that-coming train, how about the defense, which came into the game leading the NFL in points allowed at 15.7 per game -- and didn't even give up that many? Guess they really miss Jamie Collins.

The loss in Philly meant the Cowboys could not surpass the franchise record for wins in a season or beat the winning percentages of the 1968 and 1977 teams. That group from '68 featured an aging quarterback who had a fun-loving personality and who was known -- unfairly -- for not getting Dallas over the hump. That QB was extremely tough, often leading him to play games before his body was ready. His last full season, he finished right at the top of the charts in passing. Hmm. Sound like anyone we know? He might not be Don Meredith, but if you watched that drive Sunday, you know Tony Romo doesn't belong in any broadcast booth just yet. And if you said he was the best quarterback on the team, I wouldn't be mad at ya.

Hey, that season finale might not have meant jack youknowwhat, but how about that dime Landry Jones dropped in the bucket for the walk-off? (Toss-off?) The whole team responded after a lackadaisical start that saw the Browns go up 14-0 early and dominate much of the engagement. Such is meaningless Week 17 football. That won't be the case when the Dolphins come to town this weekend. One last note: Loved hearing Mike Mitchell gripe to the officials about a bogus facemask call late. He was crazy angry -- well, what a priest sounds like when he gets angry, anyway. "Oh, my goodness gracious! Oh, my goodness gracious!" Goodness gracious. I liked it so much I got the phrase in myself (see: the Patriots blurb above).

So maybe nobody should kick it to Tyreek Hill. I seriously think that dude runs faster than the '93 Ford Probe GT I had in college. Yes, it had an equalizer. No, the Chiefs have no equal in the AFC West. Kansas City won the division Sunday -- and earned a first-round bye -- by putting up 37 points. While all is well in #ChiefsKingdom, you gotta feel for Spencer Ware, who only needed 79 yards rushing to SERIOUSLY increase his salary this year but was held out from Sunday's regular-season finale with a rib injury. Can you imagine if you worked for five months to meet a benchmark that would multiply your salary, then caught the flu and fell jussst short? That ... would ... really suck. I hear it happens to Medieval Times employees all the time.

Now that is how you respond in a big spot. The Falcons needed to beat their division nemesis, and the top quarterback in the NFC South for the past decade, to earn that playoff bye. Sure, the defense faltered late, but let's not poop on the parade here. Matt Ryan and the offense put up 38 points, with the franchise quarterback throwing for four touchdowns and posting another astronomical passer rating (he finishes with the best mark in the NFL at 117.1 on the season). I have been a realist about Ryan and where he ranked among his peers in the past, and I will be a realist now: There is no stronger candidate for the MVP. Equal? Yes. Stronger? Don't think so.

Remember when the Packers lost by three touchdowns to the Titans? Aaron Rodgers was no better a quarterback than Lynn Dickey. Mike McCarthy was going to be banished to coaching ITT Tech. Ted Thompson was in jeopardy of losing his general manager gig, too. Funny how the baddest QB on the planet -- when he's hot, anyway -- can become the great elixir for all that ails an organization. That said, might tap the brakes on Rodgers being a shoo-in for the MVP. As phenomenal as the franchise quarterback has been in his last six games, he was partly responsible for the team starting 4-6 in the first place. Not saying he's a bad choice, but would love to hear from unbiased Cheeseheads whether Rodgers has been more valuable than Matt Ryan or Derek Carr for the entire season. (@HarrisonNFL)

Damn impressive. The defense. The defense is damn impressive, everybody. As for the offense ... yeah ... well ... ahem ... meh ... eh. So with the way Steve Spagnuolo's unit has competed this year, if the offense can ever get out of its own way, New York can be more than merely a tough out in the postseason. Don't blame Paulie Perkins, though, who rushed 21 times for 102 yards in Washington. Eli Manning didn't throw for much more than that, but the 44-yarder to Tavarres King was the definition of clutch. Tavares had a hit song on "Saturday Night Fever." Sure hope Manning gets a little Sunday night fever and lights it up at Lambeau.

What to make of the Seahawks? Not sure how many times I've typed that line this season, but my guess is this isn't the first. Seattle struggled in San Francisco and was even losing for a solid chunk of the game. Granted, the 49ers are a divisional opponent, but that's a 2-14 team that proceeded to fire its GM and head coach. Now the Lions are up next, on Saturday night, in the first ever playoff meeting between these franchises. Don't underestimate this Detroit team, 12s. The Lions were 0-3 last year when they were just a Megatron fumble at the two-inch line away from upsetting the Seahawks IN Seattle. No Megatron for Detroit this year. Not much of a running game, either. But that quarterback doesn't play around, injured digit or no.

How legit are these Dolphins? Sunday's loss to the Patriots didn't exactly make your neighbor with the Oronde Gadsden road jersey puff his chest out. It also meant Miami finished with a negative point differential on the season. Take heart, though, Dolphins fans: This organization won 10 games with a rookie head coach and a backup quarterback playing significant time while developing a nice player at running back in the process. The defense didn't fall apart when its best player's body did. Win, lose or draw in the playoffs, there's much to look forward to in 2017 for these guys ... with a healthy Reshad Jones.

Time for Lions fans -- and everyone intimately tied to the team -- to quit thinking of Aaron Rodgers as the boogeyman or the bully or the Drago of the NFC North. It's lame. The Lions left plays on the field in the first half, including a sure-fire touchdown pass to Golden Tate and a missed field-goal attempt from Matt Prater. Let's merely say that seeing Detroit 10, Green Bay 0 early in the second quarter would have instilled confidence in the whole team -- and the crowd. Now, the way for Jim Caldwell's group to get to the next round is NOT to fear the other guys' quarterback, but to capitalize on opportunities as they're presented, one play at a time. Period.

Doom and gloom surrounds this football team. A bit premature, isn't it, though? Is Connor Cook -- who had, well, zero experience before being thrust into action against a top-shelf Broncos defense with little help -- that much worse than Brock Osweiler (a.k.a., the guy who has thrown one touchdown pass over his last three games for the Texans, and whose 72.2 passer rating ranks 30th among qualifying quarterbacks)? Houston's defense has been legit all season, but in terms of supporting cast on offense ... Advantage, Raiders. All of this is to say, don't count the Silver and Black out of this wild-card matchup just yet. And don't count Derek Carr out of the MVP race, either. Not after the voters saw the real A.C. -- After Carr -- on Sunday.

*Phone calls and foot lockers* ... Is that what you called me all the way here for? No playoffs and they could have beaten the Cowboys and Saints ... Is that what you called me all the way here for? Please tell me your hate for the Bucs wasn't based on a box score. Sure, there are those who feel Tampa Bay blew it down the stretch. There is truth in fiction, but the final tally shows 9-7 -- maybe the best team in the NFL not invited to the postseason tournament. The offseason should be about developing a WR2, RB and more DL help. The Bucs are close. They merely need a few good men.

If you're a Redskins fan, you've probably been some form of pissed off over the last couple of days. Don't do it to yourself. The quarterback of the future is here, regardless of the ill-advised throw that landed (un)safely in the arms of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Sunday. Kirk Cousins committed the cardinal sin of a quarterback: throwing the football late, high and over the middle. But he's also committed to winning, as evidenced by his attitude and play over the last year and a half. Nice effort by the defense on Sunday, by the way.

The fact that Bill O'Brien has manufactured multiple quarterback controversies with a gaggle of mediocre quarterbacks is mind-boggling. At this point, O'Brien is just a can short of a sixpack: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage have all "won" the job at one point or another. And we're not even counting T.J. Yates, who might be the O'Doul's in this scenario. To handle a complaint before we get it: Yes, Houston is in the postseason and not listed in the top 12. That's because there are non-playoff teams that are better than the Texans all-around (... and especially at quarterback).

Character win for the Titans on Sunday, rounding out a character-building season for what should be an up-and-coming squad in 2017. When NFL Network did a Power Rankings special heading into Week 1, I said that the Bucs and Titans were my sneaky teams from the NFC and AFC, respectively, in 2016. I felt both could finish with nine wins behind young, talented QBs, with some help from the weakness of their divisions and improving defenses. They finished with precisely that amount of wins, although I thought at least one would reach the postseason. You wonder what could've been if Tennessee hadn't come out so flat versus the Jags on Christmas Eve. At least Marcus Mariota is expected to be ready to rip come training camp after suffering a fractured fibula.

Sad time for the Broncos organization. Swim in league circles for a bit and you will find, oh, approximately zero people who will say anything negative about Broncos head coach -- make that former head coach -- Gary Kubiak. You can't blame him for stepping down, especially when health is the reason. Still, his guys played for him versus the Raiders, beating a division opponent by three scores in a contest that meant nothing in terms of playoff aspirations ... although it clearly meant very much to Kubiak. What are the chances the Broncos would hire Josh McDaniels again? About the same as Peyton Hillis being on the cover of "Madden" again.

Surely, no one is happy with 8-8 -- but give Andrew Luck and the Colts credit for ending the season on a high note after depressing performances versus the Texans and Raiders. Whether ownership is happy with the Chuck Pagano-Ryan Grigson tandem remains to be seen. It appears the coach and general manager are staying put. (At least at the moment.) What the Colts won't see in 2017 is Robert Mathis, who has been with the team since 2003. That was the year Mike Vanderjagt called out Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy. Yeah, we won't go there. Mathis went where no Colt has gone before, producing 123 sacks over 14 years, all in Indy. How rare it is for a player to play with one franchise for that long?

The Ravens had a wild ride in 2016, increasing their year-over-year win total by three games while playing several of the best teams in the NFL to the final bell. A week after taking the Steelers to the brink in Week 16, a cast of imposters seemed to be on the field for the first half in Cincinnati. Not to mention they let T- Rex Burkhead decimate their defense like the T-Rex that took out a makeshift SH@#$@% and slurped up the lawyer hiding on the throne in "Jurassic Park." No AFC North crown, much less playoff invite, for John Harbaugh's team this season. The guess here is that Steve Smith Sr. will be receiving a Canton invite some time during the next 10 years.

Heckuva response by the Vikings, after two brutal showings in which the defense allowed 72 combined points. Not on Sunday. Minnesota's defensive players put the going-rogue narrative behind them, particularly the secondary. One week after a few of those guys allegedly drew their own strategies in the dirt to (not) stop Jordy Nelson, the DBs caged the Bears' passing attack. The final tally read 140 net passing yards and two interceptions for Chicago passers, while Mike Zimmer's defense as a whole gave up all of 10 points. Credit Zimmer for not overreacting to the cornerback drama and keeping his players focused. Usually, drama is associated with diva wide receivers. Yeah, the Vikings WRs aren't quite there yet. Baby steps.

The Cardinals appear to have dodged a big one when David Johnson was carted off on Sunday. The "All-World" term has been used in the past to describe many players who didn't even come close enough to graze Johnson's 2016 campaign. The final tally ... 1,239 yards rushing, 879 receiving, 20 total touchdowns. Only once did he not pass 100 yards from scrimmage -- Sunday's season finale in which he got hurt. Not much to celebrate regarding the Cardinals' 7-8-1 effort in '16. But Johnson's effort is worth rehashing 16 times over. If you can name 10 better overall seasons by an NFL RB, I'd love to hear them. Go.

Much yakking about Sean Payton's status this week. If the Saints can garner a king's ransom for Payton, you can't blame the organization for making the move. With Payton, New Orleans has gone 7-9 in three consecutive seasons, with a much-publicized suspension preceding those Jeff Fisheresque numbers. Can Payton still coach? You bet. That said, sometimes guys need a change of scenery. The status quo often feels more stale than steppin' up. We'll see. Knowing where the Saints organization was before he arrived, having won one playoff game in 39 years, you think it would be hard to close the door on the Payton era. Meanwhile, Drew Brees now owns more than half of the 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history. As in: Brees 5, every other QB in history 4.

Closing out the season strong because of pride, or to make a statement about their head coach? The Bengals drop-kicking the Ravens out of town with a three-score win appeared strangely inconsistent with almost every other performance this season, save for that Thursday night blowout of the Dolphins. The defense quietly played its butt off over the last month. In fact, in six of the last seven games, Cincy held opponents to 20 points or less. That happened just twice during the first half of the season. Still, expect changes on that side of the ball. And in the backfield. My guess? This team will be back, with a winning record, in 2017.

Doug Pederson picked up his seventh win of the season Sunday. Not bad for a rookie coach who inherited a journeyman quarterback -- then a rookie under center -- as well as bargain-brand receivers. Not to mention competing in what was the most competitive division in pro football. The NFC East produced 39 wins this year, a staggering average of just under 10 per team. The Eagles aren't that far away, despite the 7-9 mark this season. It would be nice if Carson Wentz had more help on the outside. Of course, that would require catching the football, but who wants to get that far into the weeds with complex football opinions?

Another rough outing for the Bills mafia. Fans in Buffalo who are over 40 might've felt like they were watching the Kay Stephenson era on Sunday. Nah, EJ Manuel couldn't have started for him, either. The one-time first-round draft pick threw for 86 yards -- on 20 attempts! No interceptions. That's right, no interceptions. It is genuinely tough intercepting none-yard outs and 5-yard ins. (Manuel averaged 4.3 yards per throw.) He made up for no picks by missing a wide-open Charles Clay in the end zone. If the ship hasn't sailed on Manuel's time in Buffalo, it's only because it's landlocked. Cardale Jones played with some nerves, but at least made a couple of plays. How many more plays will Doug Whaley call in the front office? We're about to find out.

Without cross referencing against Next Gen Stats, before Sunday, I think Greg Olsen had run a shallow cross 653 straight times without falling down. I was pretty sure the dude could flawlessly execute that pattern in platforms if asked. ( Cam Newton could have pulled off platforms in the postgame, too.) But alas, the two-point conversion to wrestle another win from this godforsaken 2016 campaign for Carolina slipped away with Olsen's cleat. Olsen will enter Year 11 next season. Jonathan Stewart turns 80 in running back years. Thomas Davis has been playing in Carolina since 2005. Luke Kuechly's concussion history is a concern. And Cam? Well, he ran 52 less times in '16 than in '15. That's what happens as quarterbacks get older. Put another way ... How this organization approaches the draft and free agency will be fascinating.

Sure, it was all Mike McCoy's fault. Couldn't have had anything to do with the team putting nearly 20 players on IR. Or the constant hemming and hawing from city and ownership over where the team would play next season. Or the fact that the Week 15 home game felt like a date with Raiders South. Or that Philip Rivers went rogue, performing more late-stage giveaways than Santa's last call. And one more thing before you hit the road to the Jets blurb: McCoy should have made sure to get that hold down on the final field-goal attempt in Oakland.

So thaaaaaaaat's why Todd Bowles has seemed so chill. OK, so team brass is in place. What else? Quarterback is bound ( has) to change. What does the future hold for the veteran nucleus? On that note: Saw where Darrelle Revis implored the organization to treat his situation with class. You know, the same company that has paid him tens of millions of dollars over the course of his career. Revis is 12-year-old Scotch all right, sans the smooth taste.

Boy, Doug Marrone came thisclose to the unthinkable in Jacksonville: Two and O. In the end, the strength of the Jaguars was their undoing. The secondary, which had balled out all season, ranking third in the NFL in pass yards allowed per game, got shredded by Andrew Luck -- quickly -- in the endgame scenario. What is the endgame for Jacksonville's coaching search? Marrone showed enough in two games to merit strong consideration for 16 more. Tom Coughlin? Doubtful.

Don't foresee much change with this group. Well, save for a quite large departure off the books. Jay Cutler, sure as you're born, won't be back. GM Ryan Pace, head coach John Fox and much of the plan should remain in place. Coming offseason banter will largely revolve around Cutler's potential landing spots. Super. Let this land in your football brain: Jordan Howard, who only the fantasyniks seemed to pay attention to, finished second in the NFL in rushing to Ezekiel Elliott. He averaged more yards per carry than Elliott. Oh, and Howard didn't even get his chance to run the rock until Week 4. What a find.

No matter who becomes the next head coach of the 49ers, he will be the fourth frontman in as many years. Of course, that head coach will be reporting to a new GM, as the man who fired Jim Harbaugh in a power struggle is now gone. Owner Jed York acknowledged to the media that the culture needs to change. As the owner, he won't be firing himself. As for Chip Kelly ... He never lost the locker room with the, shall we say, unusual Colin Kaepernick situation. He also inherited a roster devoid of star talent. Bet Kelly stays unemployed just long enough for a Kaepernick wobbler to hit the turf.

There are those who feel the Rams are the worst team in the NFL. Arguable, although there are a few viable parts in place for the next head coach. (Sean Payton? Josh McDaniels? Sean McVay?) The quarterback of the future, in theory, is on the roster. Todd Gurley would be the top tailback on every team in the league except the Cardinals, Cowboys and Steelers. The defense certainly can boast talent, although it has been overblown to the point that there were experts who felt the Rams would compete in the division. Still, the cupboard ain't bare. In fact, it carries enough spices to make a viable dish for the Sean Paytons of the world. A lot of money sure helps, too.

Analytics, Moneyball, stockpiling draft capital and all the other phrases you've heard for the past year will be around for at least another, as Hue Jackson and GM Sashi Brown aren't going anywhere. Cleveland owns the top overall pick, but the guess here is that it won't be spent on a quarterback. The 2017 draft doesn't feature many (any?) sure things at that position. There is also no indication Jackson and Brown are down on RGIII. They might not be down with him starting again, either, although his salary for next season makes him affordable depth. Cody Kessler will be around. Hot sports take fresh out of the oven: The Browns try to trade down, out of the No. 1 pick, and worry about drafting a quarterback later -- or in 2018.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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