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NFL Power Rankings, Week 16: Patriots back at No. 1; Bills rise

Click here to watch the full NFL NOW Power Rankings show with Elliot Harrison and Bucky Brooks.

The Week 16 NFL Power Rankings are in, with an annual reminder for football fans far and wide ...

Take a close look at the teams that won important games this past week, positioning themselves for the playoffs. They all played championship-caliber defense:

» Buffalo stayed alive in the postseason race by forcing a pair turnovers and a fumble/safety from *The Turnover-less One*, Aaron Rodgers.
» New England completely shut down the Dolphins' offense in the second half.
» Denver hit the road and held the Chargers to their second-lowest point total of the season.
» The Seahawksand Lions continued to play fantastic defense, as they've done all year.

Then there was that Dallas defense, which did allow 27 points to the Eagles. But considering it was on the road, and considering one of the touchdowns was gift-wrapped by a fumble deep in Cowboys territory, Rod Marinelli's group wasn't too shabby.

Now, on to other things ...

Love weird facts. And the Bengals really did win 30-zip that week. Cleveland's quarterback was Charlie Football -- I mean, Charlie Frye.

Agreed, man. It's challenging, but fun, too. You'll see the shakeup in the top 10 below. Remember, we are not going to overreact to one game, so Kyle Orton has not entered the MVP discussion. That aside, feel free to share your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

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

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

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss." Yes, thank you, Roger Daltrey. The Patriots have reclaimed the throne they occupied three weeks ago.

You had the feeling New England would pull away on Sunday, and that's precisely what Bill Belichick's team did, going on a 27-0 run after halftime to seal the AFC East and bring home-field advantage throughout the playoffs that much closer.

Perhaps what you've seen from Peyton Manning's Broncos the last two weeks isn't what you're used to seeing, but here's to pushing the theory that Denver is better equipped to win in the playoffs running the football and playing defense. How about 39 rushes in San Diego on Sunday?

Everyone wants to know: Is the bully back? It appears that question has been answered. The offense might not have reflected the glory days of Krieg-Warner-Largent in Sunday's 17-7 win over the rival 49ers, but going 8-for-14 on third down is huge, particularly in this kind of offense, and especially with a defense that needs nothing but occasional rest in order to dominate.

Aaron Rodgers was humbled, if nothing else, getting picked clean by Super Mario after getting picked off (twice) by a guy named Rambo. At least the latter didn't blow up the town afterward. Green Bay might be a wild-card team for now, but we'll see what happens in Week 17 ...

No, apparently these are not the "same ol' Cowboys." Every time this franchise has been in position to win the NFC East in recent years, it has faltered in games like this. And after Dallas blew a 21-0 lead, it looked like that would be the case yet again. But not this time -- not this team. While Sunday night's triumph didn't decide the division, it certainly put Dallas in the driver's seat. Improving to 7-0 on the road certainly says something about the Cowboys -- and makes 25-year-old Mel Gibson proud. Tony Romo could use a 25-year-old body, though. He still looks a wee bit healthier than Gollum to me.

Indy survived a Savage offense -- well, an offense that couldn't move the ball. Of course, the Colts, frankly, couldn't move it, either. Andrew Luck did not play his best for the second straight week, giving Houston its only touchdown in a game where touchdowns were at a premium. On the bright side, that Colts defense has played well two straight weeks.

It was ugly. It was costly. But it was a win. One thing Cards fans had to take away from the defeat of the Rams -- besides the feeling of, "Oh, @#$%, how are we going to win with Ryan Lindley?" -- is an appreciation for the unbelievable job coordinator Todd Bowles continues to do with the defense. He won that game Thursday night.

Sometimes, division games go down as easily as the turbo greens crap they try to sell you at Whole Foods. Hey, a win is a win -- so we're not going to penalize Detroit for not romping to a 30-14 rout. The most important thing to note is that the Lions jumped from the sixth seed to the second seed in one day. How crazy is that?

Who didn't think the Eagles had the Sunday nighter in the bag after Darren Sproles took that little counter run in for a touchdown, putting Philly up three, capping off a 24-point spree and whipping the home folks into a frenzy? The Eagles played the run hard, bottling up DeMarco Murray for most of the evening. Unfortunately for them, there was that Dez guy ...

Pittsburgh keeps rolling, and while it got a bit close there in the second half at the Georgia Dome, the Steelers are now in the driver's seat. (That said, even the most ardent Steelers fan in the Carnell Lake No. 37 uni would admit that secondary dodged a bullet with Julio Jones sidelined.) Here they are, though, with two home games remaining against the Chiefs and Bengals. If Pittsburgh wins out, it takes the AFC North title.

Johnny Manziel provided a spark, all right ... to a defense that had given up 42 points to the Steelers one week prior. The Bengals made all the plays Sunday in Cleveland, reading the rookie quarterback's eyes several times before he let fly. And while we're here: Thinking Jeremy Hill goes a bit higher than Giovani Bernard in fantasy drafts next year. (Like three rounds higher.)

The Chiefs took care of business at home, exacting some sort of revenge for the awful loss in Oakland a few weeks back. And they stayed consistent: No wide receivers scored touchdowns. Nope, it went punt returner, running back, tight end, running back -- just the way they like it.

That was a pretty complete win delivered by the Bills on Sunday. Nothing fluky about it. Bacarri Rambo was something special. Rambo made a mockery of a small-town sheriff -- I mean, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense -- proving that nothing is over in Buffalo. You just don't turn it off, either. I fully expect that Bills defense to blow things up in Oakland and New England. # BillsMafia #ColonelTrautman

If they were all supposed to be easy, you wouldn't be reading this column, and the NFL wouldn't be fun. And if teams weren't capable of surprising some folks, then the 2012 Ravens would never have been complaining about a half-hour light delay -- because they never would've made the Super Bowl in the first place. So don't read too much into the hard-fought win over the Jags. That's football.

On a day when Philip Rivers was not at his best, the Chargers sure could've used a running game. With Ryan Mathews on the shelf, though, the Bolts could barely muster anything on the ground (20 total attempts for 56 yards). While that aspect of this team is in disarray, at least the Bolts can take solace in the fact that their next opponent is in complete-meltdown mode. # 49ers

New season, same Dolphins. Just good enough to build up your hopes before sending them crashing down -- like every New Year's party you've been to since you were 10. Doesn't appear there will be any January festivities for this team, as Sunday's loss in New England almost assures Miami will miss postseason play for the sixth straight season -- and for the 12th time in the past 13 campaigns. Can you believe that? The 'Fins have made the playoffs once since Elvis Grbac took them down in the 2001 wild-card round.

Difficult position for rookie Tom Savage to be in Sunday, forced into the lineup after presumably getting few practice reps all season, facing the best team in the division -- and on the road, no less. Savage sure didn't look ruggedly sexy when he turned to hand off to no one on one of his first plays from scrimmage. That said, he was not a total disaster and ended up making a few solid throws in the loss. Not to mention, the one-score defeat -- and the fact that Houston made Andrew Luck look more like Ryan Fitzpatrick -- says a lot about how far this team has come. Unfortunately, the Texans they won't even have Savage this week.

He might be a savvy veteran. He might be immensely likable. And he might have the trust of the coaching staff. But Shaun Hill simply cannot succeed with the offensive line playing like it did Thursday night. And he sure as heck can't flourish dealing Charlie Hough knuckleballs on some of his passes, either.

Merely an opinion here, but when leaks come out of various corners of an organization about the tenuous state of the head coach's future -- despite the fact that his first three years on the job provided unparalleled success -- I'm thinking a distraction is created. If front offices are so wary of signing guys like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or even Tim Tebow because of the potential distractions they'd bring, perhaps they should be more vigilant about keeping this kind of strife in-house.

Everyone thought they'd see Johnny Manziel running around making plays. After the rookie's first interception, I was wondering what was running around in his head ...

 *These guys are faster than the DBs at Rice. Gee willikers. ... Ah, heck. Shake it off, man -- Hoyer would have two of those by now. ... Next time I'm in Vegas, I've got to see "Absinthe." Hear that show is killer.*. 

After all the defensive meltdowns, Jimmy Graham's disappearing act and an awful home losing streak, the 6-8 Saints are, amazingly, in position to win the NFC South. The task at hand: Win the final two games. Actually, if the Saints beat the Falcons on Sunday and the Panthers lose to the Browns, that's a wrap right there. Maybe New Orleans will surprise some folks -- pull off an upset as a 7-9 playoff team. That's never happened before, has it?

If any quarterback could have a throw from Sunday back, you gotta figure Teddy Bridgewater would demand dibs. With a first-and-10 from his own 30 and 45 seconds to play, the rookie quarterback missed high to a wide-open Jarius Wright. The play would have been good for about 20 yards. It also would have given the Vikes the football at midfield with about 37 seconds left -- plenty of time to get Blair Walsh in prime position. Of course, Walsh would probably like a Sunday do-over, as well.

Bet no one felt better than Jonathan Stewart on Sunday afternoon -- or more relieved. Stewart's lost fumble inside the Bucs' 5 prohibited Carolina from taking a commanding 23-10 second-half lead. Not to mention -- but we'll mention -- Stewart lost the handle again with the Panthers trying to burn the clock, nursing a two-point lead with under three minutes to play. He recovered that one, thank the Football Gods. And you know what? Carolina can still win the smoking dog turd we call the NFC South race.

Calling it right now, so that we're on the record: Big Blue is going to give the Eagles all they can handle two weeks from now, in a game that could hold serious division title/playoff implications for Philly. It's been mentioned in this space before that Tom Coughlin teams don't quit, which has been more noticeable the last two weeks.

Despite the missed time, has Odell Beckham Jr. made it impossible to overlook him for Offensive Rookie of the Year? (@HarrisonNFL)

Opportunity missed for the reeling Falcons, who had a chance late to even things up vs. the Steelers. Still, even at 5-9, would you believe Atlanta is in control of its own destiny in the NFC South? Win the last two, and the Dirty Birds win this "race" at 7-9.

It's your baby, Jay Cutler. Will the Bears QB live up to the potential everyone says he carries? Or will he instead carry the stigma of being seen as a decent quarterback who didn't seem to care enough? It's entirely up to him. Here's the deal: Next season is Year 10 for Cutler, and there haven't been many quarterbacks who suddenly became better a decade into the league. Jim Plunkett comes to mind. Maybe Rich Gannon, who improved significantly with age. Don't think of Kurt Warner, though, because he already had displayed brilliance by this stage of his career. The point is, the time is definitely now.

 ***UPDATE:** It appears time might have run out for Cutler in Chicago, as Jimmy Clausen will be the Bears' starting quarterback versus the Lions on Sunday.* 

Want to keep this blurb positive, so we're not going to mention the offensive line. How about Doug Martin, who posted his most productive rushing effort since September 2013? His 96 yards might not have won the day, but having him be even 90 percent of the 1,454-yard back he was in 2012 would do wonders for this offense.

The question will remain, at least until we clearly see differently: Is Robert Griffin III just good enough to get you beat? The numbers were there Sunday in New Jersey: a 106.4 QB rating, with 236 yards passing and a 67 percent completion rate. Of course, the larger number was this: 13 points. Not all of that is on the QB, though. Considering Jay Gruden's discipline is the offensive side of the ball, scoring 30 points shouldn't be a pipe dream.

Growing up in Dallas, I remember back in 1988 when I heard on the radio that the Cowboys had been hammered by the Eagles (the game was blacked out). It was the final week of the regular season. Green Bay upset the Cardinals that day -- getting a big punt return from Ron Pitts -- ensuring that the Cowboys would get the first overall pick in 1989. Sure, it was nice to receive the pick, which was used to draft Troy Aikman. But you know what? I wanted Dallas to smoke the Eagles more.

So yell at me here, but I'm with Rex Ryan on this one. Real Jets fans want a win, not a higher draft position. There probably isn't a Peyton Manning in this draft, as Ryan pointed out. And to tie a bow on it, the Packers would have taken Tony Mandarich in '89, even if they had earned the first pick. Aikman still would've ended up in Dallas. You get the point. Go Jets.

A lot of positives to be gleaned from the Jags' showing in Baltimore, even if fans in Jacksonville are sick and tired of reading sentences like this. Shoot, you guys are probably sick and tired of being sick and tired. But you have to admit, that defense has been looking better.

Saw the rampant reports that the organization is planning to make "sweeping changes" throughout the front office. Merely a thought here, but if the head coach was canned for performance when he was trying to win with draft picks that didn't pan out and free agency "help" that didn't reflect the abundance of cap money the GM had to spend, then ... wasn't that like firing a race car driver for driving a lemon?

Sheer unadulterated craziness -- that's what the NFL is sometimes. No game (or outcome) was weirder than what went down in Nashville on Sunday. Tennessee lost another quarterback to injury, got involved in a full-on brawl with guys allegedly coming off the bench (what is this, Mets-Braves?), had its captains commit critical mistakes ... then capped it off with a near-miracle that would've won the damn thing. My question to you, Titans fans: Should Delanie Walker have pitched that ball? (@HarrisonNFL) Looked like he had a shot.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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