Being the steward of SI.com's NFL power rankings can be a thankless task at times. But there are little rewards along the way. Like the small feeling of satisfaction for nailing the correct 12 teams to make the playoffs in slots 1-12 of last week's final regular-season edition of the PRs. Sure, nine of those teams had already clinched playoff berths and were a given in the top 12. But the Bengals, Giants and Broncos hadn't, and yet there they were in spots 10-11-12. The Jets, Titans, Raiders and Cowboys were all banished to No. 13 and beyond.
And for the record, I'm still feeling very bullish on my preseason Super Bowl pick of Green Bay over Baltimore. There's work to be done on both fronts, but the Packers and Ravens went a combined 16-0 at home this season and will play at least three of their possible four pre-Super Bowl playoff games before their own fans. If the Ravens do have to hit the road for New England in the AFC title game, they've proven they can handle the Gillette Stadium environment, winning big there in the 2009 postseason and pushing the Pats to overtime before losing by three points in October 2010.
But now it's playoff time and we get to find out if we had this league figured out all along. Or at least roughly. At the very end of the season. Of the eight teams in action this weekend, the Saints and Steelers look like the class of the bunch, and I could foresee three road teams winning and moving on (Pittsburgh at Denver, Atlanta at the Giants and Cincinnati at Houston). Exactly half of this week's first round field lost in Week 17, with both Denver and Houston wheezing their way into the playoffs on three-game losing streaks.
No matter. It's the playoffs. We'll watch every second of it anyway. Now here's how we rank them as the 12-team Super Bowl tournament begins...
NFL Power Rankings