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NFL Power Rankings: Bucs streaking into playoffs

We've reached the end of the regular season. The playoff field is set. The coaching carousel spins at a velocity that will undoubtedly produce a lawsuit. And the Power Rankings are back for one more all-32 countdown ahead of the Super Bowl.

Now for a fun exercise: Take a look at the rankings this week and compare them to where your team sat way back in Week 1. Did I nail it? Did I blow it? Perhaps more accurately: Did your team nail it? Or did they fail you?

It's been a long, bumpy ride. Let's bring this baby in for a landing.

Kansas City Chiefs

Previous rank: No. 1

Don't put any stock into the Week 17 loss to the Chargers. Andy Reid rested many of his key starters (including Patrick Mahomes) in a game that meant nothing, with the No. 1 seed in the AFC already clinched. The Chiefs get to enjoy what amounts to a double bye ahead of their Divisional Round matchup at Arrowhead in two weeks. With some teams, you might worry about rust or general malaise creeping in, but the defending champs deserve the benefit of the doubt. What to watch this week: the status of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the rookie running back who hasn't played since suffering hip and ankle injuries in Week 15. CEH didn't put up the eye-popping numbers fantasy owners hoped for in 2020, but he's an important piece who makes the Chiefs' offense better.

Buffalo Bills

Previous rank: No. 2

The Bills are a rampaging wrecking crew right now. Josh Allen threw three more touchdown passes in a two-quarter cameo, and Isaiah McKenzie went off for three touchdowns of his own in a 56-26 destruction of the Dolphins in Orchard Park. Those 56 points are the second-most in a game in franchise history. We're no longer surprised when Buffalo dominates an opponent, but this was a Miami team that entered Sunday with a chance to advance to the postseason. For the Bills to crush an opponent that had that much to play for tells you something about them: These are bad men with ill intentions on the field. They are scared of no team, including the defending champions they hope to meet in a few weeks.

Green Bay Packers

Previous rank: No. 3

Aaron Rodgers put the final touches on a brilliant regular season with four touchdown passes, the last thrown, fittingly, to Davante Adams in a win over the Bears. It was Rodgers' 48th touchdown pass of the season (a personal and franchise best) and the 18th touchdown for Adams, who should garner serious consideration for the Offensive Player of the Year award. Rodgers, meanwhile, has his third MVP on lock. As for the Packers as a whole? They're 13-3 for the second consecutive season and now get a week of rest and preparation ahead of the Divisional Round. It's been a decade since Green Bay made the Super Bowl -- anything less than a return to The Big Game will be considered failure.

New Orleans Saints

Previous rank: No. 4

The Saints didn't find their way to the NFC's No. 1 seed on Sunday, but they accomplished everything else on their to-do list. Drew Brees looked a lot more like himself in an efficient three-touchdown performance, Ty Montgomery shined in place of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray and the New Orleans defense piled up five interceptions in a 33-7 wipeout of the Panthers. A home matchup against the middling Bears is about as cushy a wild-card draw as any team can hope for, but these are the same Saints who ate it against the underdog Vikings in last year's Wild Card Round. Sean Payton remembers that disappointment well, and he's likely to remind his team of it this week (perhaps incessantly). The urgency should be through the Superdome roof for this Saints team. 

Baltimore Ravens

Previous rank: No. 5

The Ravens capped their scorching close to the 2020 regular season with a rushing day of historic proportions. Baltimore ran for 404 yards in a 38-3 win over the Bengals, becoming the fourth team since 1940 to clear 400 rushing yards in a game. Emerging rookie J.K. Dobbins led the way with 160 yards and two scores, while Lamar Jackson added 97 of his own -- becoming the first QB in NFL history to amass two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The Ravens enter their wild-card road matchup against the Titans with a level of momentum that will be difficult to stop. We certainly don't trust the Tennessee defense to do it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Previous rank: No. 8

Tom Brady, 43-year-old married father of three, threw 40 touchdowns this season. That is bonkers. Credit Brady for building on his impeccable G.O.A.T. credentials, but also credit the Bucs, who shelled out big money for a quarterback many believed was on the downslope of a brilliant career at the end of his 20-year-run in New England. Brady blew that theory out of the water with pirate cannons, and the Bucs have the looks of a very tough out in the playoffs. Speaking of Brady, he lobbied to make Antonio Brown a part of his offense, and the veteran wideout looked like his old self in a 11/138/2 performance against the Falcons on Sunday. With the playoff status of Mike Evans (knee) unclear, Brown becomes a vital piece of the Bucs' attack.

Seattle Seahawks

Previous rank: No. 6

The Seahawks enter the playoffs with questions about their offense -- that is not something anyone expected at the season's midpoint. Back then, Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf were turning the field into their own personal playground, while the defense was hemorrhaging yards and points at an historic rate. The power dynamic slowly shifted in the second half, though it's fair to wonder how much of Seattle's rise on D can be tied to a soft schedule of opposing QBs. The offense, which had only 108 yards midway through the third quarter on Sunday, will need to be better. And the defense might need to find a way to get it done against the Rams without star safety Jamal Adams, whose status is in doubt after he suffered a shoulder injury against the Niners.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Previous rank: No. 7

We saw it from Ben Roethlisberger in the second half against the Colts in Week 16, and then again from Mason Rudolph throughout Week 17's narrow loss to the Browns: The Steelers have reintroduced deep strikes to their passing attack, with positive results. It's an element of their game that was missing for most of the season, which eventually led to defenses clamping down on the underneath throws that had been Roethlisberger's bread-and-butter during Pittsburgh's 11-0 start. If Big Ben can challenge the Browns deep the way Rudolph did on Sunday, the Steelers should be in good position to pile up points against Cleveland's unremarkable defense. Don't be surprised if Cris Collinsworth is singing hosannas for Chase Claypool on Sunday night.

Cleveland Browns

Previous rank: No. 9

The Browns are back in the postseason for the first time since the 2002 campaign, a major accomplishment for a team that finished 0-16 just three seasons ago. Cleveland punched its ticket with a 24-22 win over a Steelers team playing backups in several key positions. The two squads meet again on Sunday night, and the Browns will have to be much sharper if they expect to contend against Pittsburgh's varsity team. Tuesday morning's news certainly doesn't help: Head coach Kevin Stefanski and Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio have tested positive for COVID-19. It can never be easy with this team.

Tennessee Titans

Previous rank: No. 10

The Titans enter the playoffs with a 2,000-yard rusher in Derrick Henry, a 40-touchdown quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and two receivers at or near 1,000 yards in A.J. Brown and Corey Davis. And yet, even with that absurd level of firepower, how confident should anyone be that Tennessee is ready to make a run deep into January? The Titans got this far because that incredible offense covered up most of the sins of a defense that allowed at least 30 points in half of its games. Things weren't exactly trending up at the end of the year, either: The D allowed 40 and 38 points to the Packers and Texans in the final two weeks. If the Titans are to beat the Ravens in January for a second straight year, they'll have to win a shootout to pull it off.

Indianapolis Colts

Previous rank: No. 11

It didn't happen immediately, but Jonathan Taylor ended his debut regular season as the game-changer the Colts believed they were getting in the 2020 draft. He capped his torrid close with a 253-yard explosion against the Jaguars that counts as the second-best day by a rookie rusher since the 1970 merger. (Adrian Peterson's 296-yard effort in November of 2007 isn't just the rookie record, but the single-game NFL record.) Taylor has averaged 123.5 yards per game since Week 11, and his 741-yard total on the ground in that span trails only Derrick Henry, a dude who ran for 2,000 yards this season. Pretty elite company for the second-round pick out of Wisconsin. In the season's first half, when Marlon Mack was lost to injury and Taylor was learning on the job, the Colts felt one-dimensional on offense with too much being put on the plate of 17th-year vet Philip Rivers. Taylor provides vital balance that makes the entire team better.

Los Angeles Rams

Previous rank: No. 13

The Rams found their way into the playoffs, but they're in a difficult spot entering this expanded opening round we're calling Super Wild Card Weekend. (Double triple-header!) The hope was that Jared Goff would be healthy enough to return for the playoffs after missing Week 17 following thumb surgery, but NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport painted a less optimistic picture on Monday. That could mean John Wolford will again get the call, this time on the road in Seattle against a Seahawks defense that has improved vastly over the past two months. Goff's play can be exasperating at times, but it's absurd to contend this team is better off with Wolford -- as has been floated in some places. The Rams could be a compromised team for the biggest game of the year.

Miami Dolphins

Previous rank: No. 12

What bitter disappointment for the Dolphins, who collapsed in all phases of a 56-26 loss to the Bills. The defeat was as decisive as it was unexpected: All season long, Brian Flores' group played with poise, urgency and competitive fire. This was a team that always showed up. To see that fire snuffed out in two quarters by a Bills team playing for little more than playoff positioning? The timing of Miami's worst performance of the season could not have been worse. You feel for Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 16th-year pro who's never been to the postseason and would almost certainly have had the chance to come off the bench one last time if he hadn't tested positive for COVID-19 last week. No Fitzmagic, no playoffs in Miami.

Los Angeles Chargers

Previous rank: No. 16

Justin Herbert capped his historic rookie season with another big performance in the Chargers' fourth consecutive win ... but it still wasn't enough to save Anthony Lynn's job. The Bolts announced Monday they were parting ways with the head coach after four seasons of bad luck and underachievement. Lynn is widely respected in league circles, so expect him to catch on somewhere as an assistant in short order. As for the Chargers gig? With a strong roster and a tremendous young quarterback entering the second year of his rookie deal, you can argue this is the best job opening out there. This is no teardown project -- the Bolts are looking for someone who can find those three or four wins that get lost in the mix every year with this star-crossed franchise.

Chicago Bears

Previous rank: No. 15

Call it the march to nowhere: Down 21-16 early in the fourth quarter, the Bears advanced the ball 51 yards on 15 plays in a drive that took Chicago deep into Packers territory and covered more than eight minutes of game time. But Mitchell Trubisky's fourth-and-1 pass to Allen Robinson fell incomplete, and two Packers touchdowns later, Chicago was on the wrong end of a blowout. The Bears backed into the playoffs anyway (thanks, Cardinals), but it's hard to have much faith in a Matt Nagy team that resurrected its season in December by fattening up on some of the worst defenses in football. Chicago's forward momentum was halted when the competition improved, and now the Saints await on Sunday. Look out.

Arizona Cardinals

Previous rank: No. 14

Where are we at on Kliff Kingsbury after two seasons? The Cardinals had moments when they looked like a franchise on the rise in 2020, but were those really just flashes of greatness from Kyler Murray that obscured a true view of where this team was really at? In a worst-case scenario, this could be the Deshaun Watson-Bill O'Brien dynamic all over again. (Somewhere, DeAndre Hopkins slaps his forehead.) Wherever you land on him, Kingsbury will enter his third season needing to show progress. And Kingsbury's next team could look significantly different: Cornerback Patrick Peterson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are both free agents in March.

Previous rank: No. 17

Ron Rivera said he won't apologize for winning on Sunday night. And why should he? Eagles coach Doug Pederson was kind enough to hand Washington the NFC East on a silver platter -- it would have been rude to refuse such a thoughtful gift. The competition won't be nearly so generous on Saturday night, when Washington welcomes in a red-hot Bucs team led by Tom Brady in full crank-back-the-clock mode. Rivera knows his team stands no shot against Tampa Bay in a shootout, so this game will come down to Washington's fearsome front seven and whether it can make life hell for Brady. We've seen pressure foul up this Bucs attack before -- Washington might have the ingredients for a wild-card upset.

Las Vegas Raiders

Previous rank: No. 19

The Raiders ended their season with an exciting 32-31 win over the Broncos, but the finale was ultimately lipstick on a pig in another campaign gone awry for the Silver and Black. The culprit for this season's December collapse was the defense, and Vegas is likely to focus its resources and draft capital on getting that unit back to respectability. Jon Gruden also needs to find someone to run the defense after firing Paul Guenther last month. Meanwhile, general manager Mike Mayock is already scouring the college level for prospects on D. Looking for a specific area of need on that side of the ball? Throw a dart and you'll find one.

Minnesota Vikings

Previous rank: No. 23

Time to make the case for Justin Jefferson as Offensive Rookie of the Year, as the receiver just ended his outstanding debut season with nine catches for 133 yards in a win over the Lions. That gave the LSU product an even 1,400 yards on the season, the most ever for a rookie wideout in the Super Bowl era. Jefferson also had seven games with at least 100 yards, tied with Odell Beckham for the most by a rook in the Super Bowl era. Per ESPN, Jefferson contributed 32.8 percent of the Vikings' receiving yards and accounted for 21.9 percent of his team's yards from scrimmage despite playing on a run-first offense. The No. 22 overall pick hit the ground running as an NFL superstar -- an absolute rarity that is deserving of special recognition.

Atlanta Falcons

Previous rank: No. 20

Raheem Morris formally interviewed for the Falcons' full-time head-coaching job last week, but results on the field likely speak louder than anything he could have said to team brass. Morris' defense allowed 44 points and 485 yards in a 17-point loss to the Bucs that closed another disappointing season in Atlanta. Morris did commendable work in the interim role after replacing Dan Quinn, but the Falcons feel like a team in need of a more thorough reboot. CEO Rich McKay already said the incoming GM will have the power to decide what to do with the roster -- which means decisions on the veteran stalwarts like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are on hold until Atlanta settles its front office. There is a level of uncertainty around this franchise we haven't seen since the end of the Mike Vick era.

San Francisco 49ers

Previous rank: No. 21

Finishing under .500 a year after nearly winning the Super Bowl would represent great disappointment for any team, but the Niners deserve credit for keeping their dignity intact while grinding through a snakebitten season. San Francisco has a big decision to make at quarterback, where the high-priced and injury-prone Jimmy Garoppolo currently sits atop the depth chart, but Kyle Shanahan will also likely be tasked with finding a new leader for his defense. Robert Saleh is coming off an excellent season in which San Francisco finished fifth in total defense despite an avalanche of injuries and COVID-19 madness. A hot name on the coaching carousel, Saleh will almost certainly get one of the open big chairs. 

Dallas Cowboys

Previous rank: No. 18

We've learned enough by now not to trust the Cowboys. The offense balled out in Week 16, with Andy Dalton carving up the Eagles with the help of his All-Star coterie of young wide receivers. It made sense that the Cowboys would ride that momentum to a win over the fading Giants to keep their playoff hopes alive. Nope. The offense dried up, and Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett got a win against his former team. A fitting end to a frustrating season, but at least the Cowboys get to turn the page. The most important order of business is, of course, at the quarterback position: Dak Prescott is in line for a monster franchise tag or the biggest contract in team history. Could Dallas possibly go in another direction?

New England Patriots

Previous rank: No. 26

While Tom Brady was throwing his 40th touchdown pass in another win for the playoff-bound Bucs, the Patriots were putting the finishing touches on a Week 17 victory over the Jets that allowed New England to avoid the ignominy of a double-digit-loss season. Now comes a huge offseason for Bill Belichick and the Patriots brain trust. New England must make decisions on high-priced veterans like guard Joe Thuney and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and restock a bare cupboard at the skill-player positions -- namely, wide receiver and tight end. And, oh yeah, the Pats probably will be in the market for a new quarterback, as well. New England has fallen behind the pack in the AFC East -- the next few months represent a huge test for the organization.

Carolina Panthers

Previous rank: No. 22

Matt Rhule said after Sunday's blowout loss to the Saints that Teddy Bridgewater's exit in the third quarter was less of a benching and more of a measure of protection for the veteran quarterback, who suffered an ankle injury earlier in the game. Whatever it was, it ended a middling year for Bridgewater, who managed just 15 touchdown passes against 14 turnovers in his first season in Charlotte. The Panthers hold the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and they will almost certainly be a major player in the quarterback market. Rhule's Monday evaluation of Bridgewater felt ominous: "Teddy has to have a tremendous offseason."

New York Giants

Previous rank: No. 25

Giants fans can curse Doug Pederson from now until the Jersey Turnpike dissolves into the Earth, but perspective is important when talking about the playoff rights of a 6-10 team. There are big questions here: Should Dave Gettleman get another year as GM? Should Daniel Jones get another year as the team's unquestioned QB1? First-year coach Joe Judge made the most of a roster that was crippled by Saquon Barkley's season-ending knee injury in Week 2, and New York's defense played at a high level for stretches. Barkley's return, paired with necessary upgrades, could get Big Blue over the hump in the milquetoast NFC East in 2021.

Philadelphia Eagles

Previous rank: No. 24

First, the good news: Thanks to Doug Pederson’s savvy decision-making on Sunday Night Football, the Eagles have their necessary evaluation of Nate Sudfeld. With that settled, the organization can turn its attention to Carson Wentz. GM Howie Roseman was entertainingly non-committal on Wentz’s future in a Monday press conference: "When you have players like that, they're like fingers on your hand. You can't imagine that they're not part of you, that they're not here. That's how we feel about Carson." In truth, Wentz’s mondo contract is the biggest tether tying him to the team that drafted him second overall in 2016. Is there a club willing to roll the dice on Wentz and take on the financial commitment that comes with it?

Denver Broncos

Previous rank: No. 27

It didn’t take long to see the first big shift in the Broncos universe. John Elway announced Monday he would soon hire a general manager who will have full authority to oversee the personnel and football department. Elway handled GM duties for the past 10 years, a stretch that included a Super Bowl title in 2015 but little success in the years since. Elway will remain firmly in the mix as president of football operations, but it takes him out of the role as primary team builder. It represents a huge organizational sea change at a time when the Broncos could find themselves back in the quarterback market after a season of mediocre play from Drew Lock.

Houston Texans

Previous rank: No. 28

Deshaun Watson didn't hold back when asked about what the Texans need from their next head coach. "We just need new energy. We just need discipline. We need structure. We need a leader so we can follow that leader as players. That's what we need." You can hear the urgency in Watson's words. The quarterback is coming off a brilliant individual season -- the fact that Houston still finished 4-12 tells you how much this organization has regressed in other areas. The Houston job is a tricky one to judge: On one hand, this is a team bereft of talent and without a GM or its first-round pick in the upcoming draft. But it does have Watson, a franchise cornerstone with Super Bowl MVP written all over him, if he ever gets surrounded with the right supporting cast. What coach could say no to that?

Cincinnati Bengals

Previous rank: No. 29

Bengals owner Mike Brown has a reputation for his patience -- he kept Marvin Lewis employed for 16 years with nary a playoff win to his credit, after all -- so we shouldn’t be surprised with Monday’s announcement that Zac Taylor will get another season on the sideline. Still, a 6-25-1 record through two years is the type of losing that will get most coaches sent on their way. You wonder if Joe Burrow's serious knee injury, which ended his excellent rookie campaign after 10 games, played a role in Taylor getting another chance in 2021. The Bengals' universe screeched to a halt the moment Burrow went down, taking any fair way to evaluate Taylor with it.

Detroit Lions

Previous rank: No. 31

Matthew Stafford ended the regular season with injuries to his throwing hand, ribs and an ankle. And yet, he still opted to suit up and play in the Lions' largely meaningless Week 17 loss to the Vikings. It definitely told us one thing, and might have told us another: 1) Stafford is one tough dude; and 2) you wonder if Stafford wanted to be on the field because he knew it would be his last game in Detroit. The Lions are about to start over with another new coach and general manager, and Stafford's Lions future has never been more uncertain. If Sunday was his final start in Honolulu Blue, the former No. 1 overall pick represented the franchise well for 12 seasons. Frankly, he deserved better.

New York Jets

Previous rank: No. 30

The Jets did what they had to do on Sunday, firing Adam Gase after two grim seasons. Gase failed in so many aspects of the job, but his biggest shortcoming was in the area he was supposed to be an expert: The Jets finished dead last in offense in each of the past two years. The organization now begins what could be a protracted search for a new sideline leader, and team CEO Christopher Johnson said Monday that general manager Joe Douglas will lead the hunt. This is a prudent move: Douglas is well respected in football circles, and he should be paired with a coach he’ll feel comfortable working alongside. Riding the longest playoff drought in the NFL, beleaguered Gang Green fans need their team to get this hire right.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Previous rank: No. 32

The Jaguars surprised no one with their move to fire Doug Marrone on Monday. That means Jacksonville begins its offseason without a head coach, general manager or starting quarterback. Yes, owner Shad Khan has a monster job in front of him, and it likely starts with finding Marrone’s successor. Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and current Ohio State coach Ryan Day are two big names connected to the job. As for the QB? That's the most straightforward decision, thanks to the No. 1 overall pick in the team’s possession. "What has evaded the Jags is a franchise quarterback," Khan said Monday. "We have the ability to make a choice and it will define the franchise moving forward."

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter.

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