Wednesday December 30th, 2009

This is our final full-fledged NFL power rankings of the season -- we'll have a playoff-field version next week -- and that means it's our last, best chance to right all the wrongs and get things in order before the postseason descends.

And unlike the laissez faire Colts, we're not backing off a bit. We're giving it our best shot, keeping our nose to the grindstone, and ignoring any inclination to rest on our laurels. (What laurels, you say? Valid point). That's just how we do business here at SI.com's NFL Power Rankings. And you can tell Bill Polian I said so.

Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 1
OK, here's the deal, Horseshoe Heads: You better at least make it to the Super Bowl now, or your wildly unpopular decision to run the junior varsity out there with a five-point lead at home against the Jets in Week 16 will be blamed for everything. That might not be fair, but that's the way it is. Peyton Manning can't say it, but I can. I hated the way the Colts played it against New York, and there's something inherently wrong about not trying your best to win the game in that situation, with an undefeated season on the line. Everything about Indy's approach is diametrically opposite to how the Patriots and Giants approached things in Week 17 of 2007, and you recall the universal acclaim those two franchises were bathed in after their epic battle. As wrong as it feels, my gut tells me it won't end up being the right call for Indy in the long run.
 
2San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 3
I know they've got some health issues to think of, but as well as the red-hot Chargers are playing, do you really want a first-round bye in the playoffs? I say Norv Turner scrambles together a local semi-pro team, or even the Raiders, to give his guys a little live competition at some point during the weekend of Jan. 9-10. Anything to keep the mojo flowing.
 
3Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 5
As well as these Eagles have played over the past six weeks, if they don't take care of business in Dallas on Sunday, so much of their good work could go for naught. Philly can still be seeded anywhere from second to sixth in the NFC, and that's a pretty big difference when it comes to navigating the playoff landscape. Sure, the Eagles were a No. 6 seed last year and made the NFC title game, and the Giants won it all as a No. 5 in 2007. But in the season it made its only Super Bowl trip of the decade, Philadelphia had a first-round bye followed by two home games.
 
4New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 3
Carolina strikes me as one of the worst opponents the Saints could possibly face this week, because if the Panthers go out and physically punish New Orleans like they did the Vikings and Giants the past two weeks, gouging them with their running game, I fear New Orleans would enter the playoffs as the least confident No. 1 seed in league history. No offense, Jim Caldwell, but I don't think Sean Payton will be resting too many regulars this week in Charlotte. The sagging Saints need the kind of boost that only comes with winning and doing so in impressive fashion.
 
5New England Patriots
Last Week: 9
I'm vaulting the Patriots back into my top five this week, ahead of some teams they've been trailing, because I believe before this postseason is all said and done, New England will show itself worthy of such a slot. The Patriots haven't had a one-and-done playoff experience since 1998, in the Pete Carroll era, and I don't foresee that streak ending this season.
 
6Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 4
Save all the psycho-drama quarterback-coach sub-plots. The Vikings are getting beat because their offensive line is a mess, their receivers aren't really getting open on a consistent basis, and offenses are consistently picking apart their defense. I don't get the feeling this is going to end well for Minnesota, and then what? Back to Tarvaris Jackson in 2010?
 
7Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 6
You can see what's coming, right? Packers-Vikings III, the rematch we dared not dream of but would kill for. Some things are just meant to be, and this may be one of them. For the record, I'd take Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers to get their revenge. Asking Brett Favre to deliver yet another win against the Packers this season might just be the only way this entire saga could possibly end.
 
8Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 7
I'm baffled by the struggles Marion Barber is having in short-yardage situations. At Washington, he was stuffed three more times needing a yard on third or fourth down, the same treatment he got from San Diego in goal-line situations in Week 14. What happened to the guy who ran harder than any ballcarrier in the league, and never went down without drawing a gang of tacklers?
 
9Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 8
With their running game and their stout defense, the Bengals had a nice formula for winning in the AFC North this season. But they're just not explosive enough on offense, and it's hard to see them making trouble for the likes of Indy, San Diego, or New England in the AFC playoffs. Then again, the last time I was absolutely certain I was watching a one-and-done playoff team, the Cardinals wound up in the Super Bowl.
 
10Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 10
Try to wrap your head around these mind-boggling statistics: The Cardinals franchise just reached 10 wins in a regular season for the first time since 1976. From 1977-2008, 292 teams had a regular season of at least 10 wins, or an average of more than nine clubs per year. Other than expansion Houston, which has now gone its first eight seasons without a 10-win year, every other NFL franchise has had at least three seasons of 10 wins or more in that span. Detroit is the next lowest, with three such seasons, and San Francisco had an NFL-high 19 seasons of 10-wins-plus from 1997-2008, including 16 in a row.
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