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2014 NFL Playoff Power Rankings — Seahawks, Patriots clear Super Bowl favorites

Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks will be tough to beat at home during the playoffs. (Rick Scuteri/AP Photo)
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Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske provides his ranking of the league’s 32 teams based on his observations, while Fancy Stats blogger Neil Greenberg mines the numbers to generate a stats-centric power ranking of his own.

With the conclusion of the NFL season, we’ve divided the rankings into two tiers: Playoff teams and those looking ahead to 2015.

Compare, contrast and sound off in the comments.


1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 1

They have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, and it is a considerable advantage indeed. They are playing at a level that approaches the one during last season’s run to the Super Bowl title. There is every reason to believe the Seahawks will be back in the Super Bowl. Who’s going to go to Seattle during the NFC playoffs and beat them with the stakes so high?

2. New England Patriots (12-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 2

It’s looking quite a bit like it will be a Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl. All of New England’s top competitors in the conference have issues, and someone would have to go to Foxborough, Mass., and beat the Patriots during the AFC playoffs to keep Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady from returning to the Super Bowl.

3. Dallas Cowboys (12-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 4

Their 8-0 road record during the regular season makes them probably the top threat to the Seahawks in the NFC. The Cowboys won in Seattle in October. But to do it again, they have to get there first. That means getting started by winning this weekend at home, where they were only 4-4 during the regular season, against the Lions. QB Tony Romo has had a superb season to elevate himself into the MVP conversation. But he has one career playoff victory, something of which he will be reminded often until he goes out and does something about it.

4. Green Bay Packers (12-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 5

QB Aaron Rodgers has a bye weekend to rest and try to heal. But the fact that he has not been able to get his injured calf muscle fully healed is alarming, for the Packers will go only as far during the postseason as Rodgers carries them.

5. Denver Broncos (12-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 7

QB Peyton Manning went interception-free in Sunday’s victory over the Raiders after throwing 12 interceptions in the previous eight games. The Broncos are set up reasonably well for the playoffs, with a first-round bye and a second-round home game. Potentially having to travel to New England for the AFC championship game is a major issue. But the Broncos can worry about that if and when the time comes.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 8

They get to play the Ravens at home this weekend after securing the AFC North title with Sunday night’s triumph over the Bengals. But RB Le’Veon Bell’s knee injury is a huge problem. If he’s sidelined or limited, the offense potentially becomes one-dimensional. QB Ben Roethlisberger threw six TD passes when the Steelers beat the Ravens in Pittsburgh during the regular season. But could he do it again if the Ravens know that he has to win the game with his passing, without the threat of Bell as runner?

7. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 10

QB Andrew Luck didn’t play a full game in either of the Colts’ final two regular season games, with the AFC South title already in hand. That kept Luck healthy, and he and the offense had a good outing for a half Sunday at Tennessee after struggling badly the previous weekend in Dallas. But now it’s time to get back to working full-time.

8. Detroit Lions (11-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 3

The suspension of DT Ndamukong Suh from the Lions’ opening-round playoff game at Dallas is a potential game-changer, if it’s not overturned on appeal. The Cowboys’ powerful offensive line would have a far easier time controlling the line of scrimmage against Detroit’s defensive front if Suh doesn’t play, opening running lanes for RB DeMarco Murray and keeping Romo from having to worry about an up-the-middle pass rush.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6

Things couldn’t have gone much worse Sunday night in Pittsburgh. The Bengals lost and watched WR A.J. Green exit the game after absorbing a hit that left him subject to the NFL’s concussion protocol. QB Andy Dalton potentially will have to play without his top receiver as he seeks his first postseason victory.

10. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 13

DE Haloti Ngata returns from his four-game suspension for the playoffs, and the Ravens catch a major break if they don’t have to face Bell because of his knee injury. But which version of QB Joe Flacco will show up in Pittsburgh? The one who was 4 for 22 with three interceptions at one point during the loss at Houston in the second-to-last game of the regular season and then struggled for three quarters Sunday against the Browns? Or the one who had a perfect passer rating in the fourth quarter vs. Cleveland as the Ravens rallied for the win that got them into the playoffs? The fourth-quarter version from Sunday is what the Ravens need this weekend and beyond.

11. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 11

QB Ryan Lindley was better Sunday than he’d been in his previous start. He might be able to get the Cardinals through this weekend’s first-round game at Carolina. But there’s little evidence so far to suggest Arizona can make a run deep into the playoffs with Lindley in the lineup.

12.Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 18

The Panthers have joined the 2010 Seahawks as the only teams to reach the NFL playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike season. Now they’ll try to do what those Seahawks did and win their first-round postseason game at home. They certainly have a chance. They’ve played well lately and they’ll have the superior QB in their matchup with the Cardinals.


13. Houston Texans (9-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 12

J.J. Watt played like an MVP. If a defensive player ever is going to win the award in this passing-friendly era of the NFL, it’s going to be Watt this season. But the Texans didn’t quite make the playoffs. If they’d snuck into the postseason field, Watt’s candidacy undoubtedly would have been boosted considerably.

14. Buffalo Bills (9-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 15

There was little time to savor a winning season, given the Bills’ announcement Monday that they’d been informed of QB Kyle Orton’s plans to retire. That potentially leaves the team starting over at QB. Can the Bills go back to EJ Manuel after he was benched in favor of Orton?

15. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 16

The Chiefs kept the Chargers out of the playoffs but couldn’t manage to get themselves in. They have only themselves to blame after losing to the Titans in the season opener and to the Raiders in November.

16. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 17

Getting to the 10-win mark does little to reduce the disappointment of missing the playoffs in Coach Chip Kelly’s second season. This team entered the season regarded as the heavy favorite in the NFC East and a potential conference heavyweight. The Eagles played to that standard for much of the season. But things fell apart in the games that mattered down the stretch, and it’s difficult to conclude anything other than the Eagles need to find a way to get better play at QB. That might mean handing the job back to Nick Foles. But there’s no guarantee that’s the answer, given his issues with turnovers this season before he got hurt.

17. San Diego Chargers (9-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 9

The Chargers couldn’t block Justin Houston on Sunday in Kansas City and couldn’t get the win they needed to get into the playoffs. QB Philip Rivers played through injuries and had a productive season, but couldn’t quite orchestrate one more gritty comeback when the Chargers needed it.

18. San Francisco 49ers (8-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 23

Jim Harbaugh is gone and the 49ers say they’re in a reloading, not a rebuilding, situation. Next season will be an interesting test indeed of whether the players chosen by GM Trent Baalke are good enough without Harbaugh coaching them.

19. Miami Dolphins (8-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 14

Owner Stephen Ross’s “reward” for announcing that Joe Philbin would remain the team’s coach in 2015 was a loss Sunday to the lowly Jets that kept the Dolphins from having a winning season. They went 3-5 in the season’s second half. The season also ended with a controversy over whether WR Mike Wallace refused to play in the second half of the finale or was benched by coaches. So much for ending on a positive note.

20. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 22

The Vikings ended the season on a positive note with the win over the Bears and can feel good about the development of rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater. Now comes an offseason in which they presumably will have to make a decision at some point about whether they want RB Adrian Peterson back once he’s reinstated by the NFL.

21. New Orleans Saints (7-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 24

They couldn’t win an awful division even in a season in which QB Drew Brees tied for the league lead in passing yards. Clearly there are issues that must be addressed, particularly on defense. Brees obviously remains a productive passer. But he turns 36 in January, and he won’t remain a QB capable of being the centerpiece of a would-be contender forever.

22. New York Giants (6-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 19

Coach Tom Coughlin and General Manager Jerry Reese are being retained, and it’s the right move. Coughlin is a two-time Super Bowl winner who deserves to be given every chance to find a way to make things work. Reese drafted Odell Beckham Jr. this year. Isn’t that enough by itself?

23. Atlanta Falcons (6-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 20

The Falcons went from playing for the division title Sunday to firing Mike Smith as their coach Monday. Owner Arthur Blank called the ouster of Smith the toughest business decision he’d ever had to make. Smith had the Falcons in the NFC title game in the 2012 season. But they lost that game at home to the 49ers and went a combined 10-22 in the two seasons since. They couldn’t win the dreadful NFC South this season even with a highly productive passing game led by QB Matt Ryan and WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White.

24. St. Louis Rams (6-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 21

The notion that the Rams are building a contender was not supported by this season’s victory total. They managed only six wins on the heels of consecutive seven-victory seasons. The QB problem is apparent to all, and the team must decide this offseason whether to welcome back Sam Bradford and hope he stays healthy or move on. But, despite a few impressive wins this season, the overall results suggest that the rest of the team that has been assembled around the QB position perhaps is not quite as good as the Rams seemingly would like to believe.

25. Cleveland Browns (7-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 25

Perhaps the most ominous thing is that Connor Shaw, just promoted from the practice squad to start Sunday in Baltimore, looked every bit the equal to this point of fellow rookie QB Johnny Manziel. Even so, the Browns have little choice but to go with Manziel next season and find out if their use of a first-round draft pick on him in May was a wasted choice or not. The five-game losing streak to close the year and the need for disciplinary measures last weekend against Manziel, WR Josh Gordon and CB Justin Gilbert left a once-promising season ending with a feeling that not much progress really was made.

26. Chicago Bears (5-11) | Last Week’s Rank: 26

Coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery are gone. Jay Cutler probably stays, given how difficult it would be to trade him and his contract. Hiring Mike Shanahan to coach Cutler might not be such a crazy idea.

27. New York Jets (4-12) | Last Week’s Rank: 29

It clearly was time to move on from Rex Ryan and get a fresh start, but it’s highly debatable whether the Jets will find a better coach. Not everyone wants to coach in New York and there is no franchise QB in place to use as a drawing card.

28. Oakland Raiders (3-13) | Last Week’s Rank: 27

Jon Gruden signed a contract extension with ESPN. Jim Harbaugh returned to the college coaching ranks at Michigan. Two of the top coaching targets for Raiders owner Mark Davis are off the board before the team’s search even really gets revved up. The outlook for the franchise landing a coach capable of turning things around frankly is not very promising.

29. Washington Redskins (4-12) | Last Week’s Rank: 28

A convincing case can be made that Jim Haslett should not be retained as the Redskins’ defensive coordinator. He has been given quite a bit of time and has not proven to be part of any solution, and Jay Gruden must learn that there are tough decisions to be made as a head coach. But is Haslett the problem? No, probably not. He is a competent defensive coach who will get about what he should get out of the talent given to him. He has not been given the talent necessary to have a decent defense.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13) | Last Week’s Rank: 30

The best thing that can be said about QB Blake Bortles’s rookie season is that it’s over. He got through it. He emerged relatively unscathed. Now he has to learn from it and try to get better.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14) | Last Week’s Rank: 31

The Buccaneers finally did something right. They came from ahead and lost the game they needed to lose Sunday to the Saints to secure the top overall choice in the NFL draft. Now they will have their pick of QBs as they continue what now promises to be a lengthy rebuilding process under Coach Lovie Smith.

32. Tennessee Titans (2-14) | Last Week’s Rank: 32

The Titans should not consider addressing their need at QB by trading for Jay Cutler, as has been speculated. They have the No. 2 pick in the draft and should use it on whichever QB the Buccaneers don’t take between Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, assuming that both underclassmen make themselves available.

Around the NFL

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Kilgore: Niners will regret losing Harbaugh

First and 10: Playoff picks and analysis

Playoff matchups: AFC | NFC

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Niners, Jim Harbaugh split

Suh steps on Rodgers — twice

Early Lead: Manziel party led to tardiness

Fancy Stats: J.J. Watt makes history

Boren: Watt’s MVP case

Early Lead: Bill Belichick misses press conference to meet with trainers