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NFL power rankings, Week 17: The Saints are the most trustworthy team among the NFC leaders

Drew Brees leaves the field after the Saints' win Sunday at Tennessee. (Mark Zaleski/AP)

Each week during the NFL season, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske ranks the 32 teams. This week, the Ravens remain No. 1 and the Saints stay right on their heels. The Seahawks drop after their puzzling loss at home to the Cardinals. The Chiefs, Patriots and 49ers move up. Things are wide open, particularly in the NFC.

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 1

Lamar Jackson and the rest of the offense got off to an uncharacteristically sluggish start in Cleveland. But the Ravens used a flurry late in the first half to get back to doing what they do, and they remain on a major roll as the postseason nears.

2. New Orleans Saints (12-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 2

The 49ers lost at home in Week 15 to the Falcons. The Seahawks lost at home Sunday to the Cardinals. The Saints aren’t perfect. But with the playoffs just about at hand, they are the closest thing to a trustworthy team among the NFC’s front-runners.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 4

The defense is playing well lately. Patrick Mahomes is doing Patrick Mahomes things. The Chiefs are 7-1 on the road. This will be a very dangerous team during the AFC playoffs.

The Chiefs actually can play defense, and Patrick Mahomes is still better than Mitchell Trubisky

4. New England Patriots (12-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 5

Tom Brady was sharp in Saturday’s triumph over the Bills that clinched an 11th straight AFC East title. Has a 12-3 team ever generated this much angst? No, the Patriots won’t be the favorite entering the AFC playoffs. But they certainly have a chance to be the last team standing again.

Tom Brady, Patriots give vintage performance, hold off Bills for 11th straight AFC East title

5. San Francisco 49ers (12-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7

The 49ers pulled it out Saturday against the Rams and moved back into the No. 1 seed in the NFC entering next weekend’s showdown with the Seahawks. But the defense is not looking so overpowering these days. That’s a concern.

6. Green Bay Packers (12-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 6

Many are dismissing the Packers as a legitimate Super Bowl threat in the NFC, but they’re the No. 2 seed. The defense was good during Monday night’s triumph at Minnesota, and the offense rebounded from its error-prone first half.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are ‘winning ugly.’ He’s just fine with that.

7. Seattle Seahawks (11-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 3

Losing at home to the Cardinals in Week 16? Really? The Seahawks might get things together and still be a force in the NFC playoffs. But Sunday’s performance was truly alarming.

8. Houston Texans (10-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 10

The Texans found a way to win Saturday against the Buccaneers, so the AFC South is theirs. But it’s difficult to know from week to week just what version of this team will show up.

9. Minnesota Vikings (10-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 8

The Vikings are locked into the No. 6 seed in the NFC after the loss to the Packers. The good news for Kirk Cousins: There are no Monday night games in the playoffs.

10. Buffalo Bills (10-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 9

The Bills certainly had their chance Saturday at New England. But it doesn’t appear they’re quite ready to be an upper-tier team, at least not yet.

11. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 14

Carson Wentz was terrific in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys, and the Eagles are making it work with unheralded players around Wentz. That will be good enough, most likely, to win the NFC East. It’s unlikely to be good enough during the playoffs.

Carson Wentz earns signature win as Eagles beat Cowboys to take charge in NFC East

12. Tennessee Titans (8-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 12

The AFC wild-card race was headed in reverse Sunday with losses by the Titans and Steelers. Even if Tennessee manages to get into the postseason, the Titans are looking like a one-and-done team.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 11

Coach Mike Tomlin has done a superb job holding things together and keeping the Steelers in the playoff chase under trying circumstances. The Steelers mostly have overachieved. Look who is playing QB, and look who is on the field on offense around the QB. But that was a really bad loss to the Jets.

14. Atlanta Falcons (6-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 16

If only the Falcons had started to play well sometime before their season basically was over.

15. Denver Broncos (6-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 19

The Broncos may have found something with Drew Lock at quarterback. It wasn’t a great season, obviously. But with the Broncos set to emerge from it with hope that their QB situation finally has been resolved, it’s not a total calamity, either.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 13

Jameis Winston is 92 passing yards from 5,000 for the season. He’s up to 31 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions after the four picks against the Texans. It would be difficult to part with a QB coming off a 5,000-yard passing season. But there’s simply no way to be a legitimate contender with that kind of carelessness at QB.

17. Dallas Cowboys (7-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 15

Ezekiel Elliott didn’t get the key third-and-one carry in the third quarter Sunday in Philadelphia. Amari Cooper was on the sideline during crunch time. It remains baffling how the Cowboys are this bad, and that almost certainly will cost Coach Jason Garrett his job after he lasted 10 seasons working for owner Jerry Jones.

18. New York Jets (6-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 23

Le’Veon Bell got his revenge on the Steelers … sort of. The Jets’ victory Sunday was very damaging to the Steelers’ playoff chances. But Bell still is with the Jets, after all. There are no real winners in that exchange.

19. Oakland Raiders (7-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 24

A .500 season would be an accomplishment, given how bleak things looked last season in Year 1 of Jon Gruden’s return to coaching. But more was expected after the Raiders elevated themselves into playoff contention around midseason.

20. Indianapolis Colts (7-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 25

This offseason, how many times will the Colts ask Andrew Luck whether he’s ready to come out of retirement?

21. Arizona Cardinals (5-9-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 26

The record isn’t good, but there are things the Cardinals can build on from Year 1 with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. The win at Seattle was impressive.

22. Chicago Bears (7-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 17

Did anyone really need a reminder that the Bears made a franchise-altering blunder by drafting Mitchell Trubisky instead of Patrick Mahomes? If so, it was provided Sunday night at Soldier Field.

23. Los Angeles Rams (8-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 18

What, exactly, was the secondary doing on that third-and-16 pass play by the 49ers that set up San Francisco’s winning field goal Saturday? Anyone?

24. New York Giants (4-11) | Last Week’s Rank: 27

Okay, it was nice for Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley to play so well. Beating the Redskins provided a win in a season in which victories have been scarce. But what about losing the chance to draft Chase Young?

25. Miami Dolphins (4-11) | Last Week’s Rank: 28

The crazy finish against the Bengals was unnecessarily stressful. But Brian Flores continues to out-coach his front office’s designs for this season.

26. Los Angeles Chargers (5-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 20

The unwanted franchise heads into an offseason in which the face-of-the-team QB’s future with the organization is in doubt. It says here that the Chargers should keep Philip Rivers and let him play out his career with his original team.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 21

Can the Jaguars’ games begin five minutes later now that Tom Coughlin is gone? His ouster from Jacksonville’s front office was necessary, given the on-field failures and the issues leading to the NFLPA’s warning that players might want to consider signing elsewhere. But he was a significant figure as a coach, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Jacksonville Jaguars fire Tom Coughlin as top front office football executive

28. Cleveland Browns (6-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 22

If the Browns ever generate any offseason hype again, don’t believe it. Ever. They’re still the Browns. Always, always keep that in mind.

29. Washington Redskins (3-12) | Last Week’s Rank: 29

Just when rookie QB Dwayne Haskins was starting to play well, he left the field Sunday on a cart after suffering an ankle injury on a sack. The consolation prize for the Redskins is that they are now well positioned to end up with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft, which could be used on prized pass rusher Chase Young. They just can’t go do something crazy like winning Sunday at Dallas.

30. Carolina Panthers (5-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 30

Memo to Panthers players: The season doesn’t end in October. Carolina’s performance in the second halves of the past two seasons has been astonishingly awful. Greg Olsen’s postgame takedown of the organization’s entire operation was on target. He will be great in a TV booth someday, perhaps soon.

31. Detroit Lions (3-11-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 31

The decision to retain Coach Matt Patricia was curious. If going 9-7 wasn’t good enough for Jim Caldwell to keep his job, how is going 9-21-1 over two seasons good enough for Patricia to stay?

32. Cincinnati Bengals (1-14) | Last Week’s Rank: 32

The Bengals are absolutely awful. But at least they made it entertaining against the Dolphins. Best of luck with all of this, Joe Burrow.

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