Playoff-bound Steelers, Eagles outside top 14

January 12, 2022
Playoff-bound Steelers, Eagles outside top 14
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NFL power rankings at conclusion of 2021 regular season (previous rank in parentheses):

1. Packers (1): Breathe easy, Green Bay fans, Aaron Rodgers has officially refuted dubious rumors he’d sit out the Super Bowl in some sort of COVID-19 protest if the Pack got that far. But can you rest easy, Green Bay fans, knowing Rodgers has failed to lead the Pack to Super Sunday the two previous times he’s been armed with the NFC’s No. 1 seed? Third time’s the charm?

2. Buccaneers (4): Tampa Bay had never won 13 regular-season games before this season. Bucs have also never won consecutive Super Bowls. They also haven’t seen RB Leonard Fournette in a few weeks. They also have a tight end who’s richer because QB Tom Brady made sure Rob Gronkowski reached his contractual incentives. So much Bucs flux!

3. Chiefs (2): The fifth team in league history to win at least a dozen games in four consecutive seasons led by the fifth coach (Andy Reid) with 250 wins, including playoffs. Now, will Kansas City directly follow New England with its own AFC three-peat?

4. Titans (5): Remarkable resilience, enduring long enough without so many key players – namely RB Derrick Henry – and still locking up the AFC’s first-round bye. Reality check? Tennessee has also dropped three of its last four playoff games in Nashville, including last year’s loss to Baltimore.

5. Bills (7): A lot of attention focused on QB Josh Allen’s relative inconsistency and the invisibility of the running backs prior to December. But let’s salute a defense that allowed the fewest points and yards in the league … and it wasn’t particularly close.

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6. Rams (3): QB Matthew Stafford is a division champion for the first time in his 13-year career. Is winning a playoff game the next thing off his bucket list?

7. Patriots (8): Could be snowing amid single-digit weather Saturday night in Buffalo. Might be another three-throw game for rookie QB Mac Jones. Worked out the first time.

8. Bengals (9): They haven’t won a playoff game in 31 years, the longest drought in the league – and dating back to when the Raiders lived in Los Angeles. Maybe a little LSU Bayou Bengal national championship DNA can change all that.

9. Cardinals (10): They finished with the league’s best road record (8-1), so just as well they’re taking the wild-card route into LA. Arizona is also 7-0 this year with DE J.J. Watt … and he’ll be back Monday night if the Cards are lucky.

10. Cowboys (11): The league’s top offense and No. 1 scoring team also set a league record as 22 different Dallas players scored TDs in 2021. 

11. 49ers (14): No team had more net yards per pass attempt (7.7) than the Niners – and you thought they were a running team. Will that be enough to lead them to their first playoff win in Texas? 

12. Raiders (13): Remarkable job by Rich Bisaccia, the first interim coach to lead a successful playoff charge, to rally this club repeatedly – most notably its season-ending four-game winning streak. Coach of the year?

13. Chargers (12): They’ve lost a lot of games in stunning fashion over the years, but Sunday takes the cake, right? Take a timeout and think about it.

14. Colts (6): Indianapolis becomes the first team to eliminate HBO’s “Hard Knocks” from clinching a playoff spot.

15. Steelers (16): Amazing debut by RB Najee Harris, who led all rookies in 2021 with 1,667 yards from scrimmage. Hall of Famer Franco Harris never had that many yards in one season.

16. Eagles (15): How much do they spread the load? Philly led league in rushing yet didn’t have a single player gain 800 yards. However rookie WR DeVonta Smith and TE Dallas Goedert both exceeded 800 yards for a 25th-ranked passing attack.

17. Saints (17): They didn’t make the playoffs, but has Sean Payton ever done a better coaching job given the circumstances?

18. Dolphins (19): They didn’t make the playoffs, but has Brian Flores ever done a better coaching job given the circumstances? (Last season was actually better … which helps explain – slightly – why Flores was fired.)

19. Ravens (20): They didn’t make the playoffs, but has John Harbaugh ever done a better coaching job given the circumstances?

20. Vikings (18): They didn’t make the playoffs … sorry. Sorry. Given how much this team has underachieved the past two seasons, it was time for a change. 

21. Browns (21): Cleveland led NFL with 5.1 yards per carry, yet ranked ninth in rushing attempts. Indicative of how out of whack this offense got.

22. Broncos (22): They’ve had one 1,000-yard receiver in the past five seasons. Denver simply isn’t equipped at this point to keep pace in what should probably be called the AFL West.

23. Bears (23): Chicago has one playoff win in the past 15 years. Oh for the days of Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler, much less the ’85 Bears.

24. Seahawks (24): They find themselves at a fascinating crossroads with QB Russell Wilson’s worst season concluded. Though Seattle is unlikely to get impact help from upcoming draft, plenty of cap room to make a run at a few free agents. What to do?

25. Washington (25): They’ve won exactly seven games in four of the past five seasons, though amazing how much worse seven 2021 victories felt compared to seven 2020 victories. Nothing a little rebranding can’t fix, right?

26. Falcons (26): Pressure’s off as along as the University of Georgia continues dominating the state’s football spotlight.

27. Lions (31): They played .500 football following Thanksgiving, are suddenly the second-most stable organization in the NFC North and have three of the top 34 picks of 2022 draft, including No. 2 overall. How quickly things can (potentially) change in the NFL. Coaching at Senior Bowl provides good head start on next season.

28. Jets (27): They beat two eventual division champions, are suddenly the, um, third-most stable organization in the AFC East and have four of the top 38 picks of 2022 draft, including No. 4 overall. How quickly things can (potentially) change in the NFL. Coaching at Senior Bowl provides good head start on next season.

29. Texans (30): Davis Mills was more productive than every rookie quarterback in 2021 not named Mac Jones, who enjoyed slightly better circumstances. Go figure.

30. Jaguars (32): At least QB Trevor Lawrence saved his best rookie performance for last, Jacksonville’s Week 18 upset of Colts his only game with multiple TD passes and no turnovers.

31. Panthers (29): They enter 2022 on a league-worst seven-game losing streak and no clarity under center. Long way from that 3-0 September.

32. Giants (28): They were outscored by 158 points, most in the NFC, including a 163-56 stretch on the six-game skid that wrapped their season. Perplexing Joe Judge even survived beyond Black Monday.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.



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