NFL Power Rankings Week 17: Teams That Will Improve Draft Pick in Season Finale

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 23:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium on December 23, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Every team enters the final game of the regular season with a different objective.

Those that have already clinched a spot in the playoffs simply hope to escape the game without suffering a major injury to a key player, while others will be pulling out all the stops to ensure that the season doesn't come to an end when the final whistle sounds on Sunday.

For others, all eyes are on the 2013 NFL draft, a time when teams hope to fill gaping holes on both sides of the ball, something made far easier to do with a higher pick in each round.

Which teams will be making picks earlier than the projections have them picking now?

Let's take a look.

*Teams who will move up in the draft after Week 17 italicized.

1. Denver Broncos (12-3)

So much for Peyton Manning not being the same player after sitting out the entire 2011 season.

All the four-time NFL MVP has done is lead the Denver Broncos to the AFC West division crown, 10 consecutive victories and a real shot at a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

LB Von Miller has emerged as one of the elite defensive players in the NFL, not only elevating his level of play but that of his teammates as well, a major reason why the Broncos are a Top 10 defense in the league.

Finishing up the season at home against the Kansas City Chiefs (2-12), where the Broncos' draft isn't something that will be decided for quite some time.

2. Green Bay Packers (11-4)

Despite a terrible offensive line that has allowed him to get sacked 46 times, reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers has led the Packers to four consecutive victories, the NFC North division title and a shot to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs.

He leads the NFL in passer rating (106.4), is second in touchdown passes (35) and ninth in passing yardage (3,930).

Minnesota's Adrian Peterson very well could pick up the 204 rushing yards that he needs to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record against Green Bay in Week 17, but the Packers' offense is simply too much for Minnesota's defense to handle.

3. Seattle Seahawks (10-5)

Denver might have the NFL's longest current winning streak, but there isn't a team that's playing better heading into the playoffs than the Seattle Seahawks.

Over the last three weeks, Pete Carroll's squad has outscored its opposition 150-30. 

Seattle didn't only beat up on the weaker teams in the NFL either, handing its division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, a 42-13 beating in Week 16. 

The Seahawks are clicking in all aspects of the game right now, and with a shot at both the NFC West championship and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, the St. Louis Rams are in for a long afternoon at CenturyLink Field in Week 17.

4. Atlanta Falcons (13-2)

With the top overall seed in the NFC playoffs already locked up, the Falcons don't have anything to play for in Week 17, which means that Atlanta figures to rest its starters against Tampa Bay.

Matt Ryan is enjoying the best season of his NFL career, thanks largely in part to explosive wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, not to mention the ageless Tony Gonzalez, who, even in his 16th NFL season, remains one of the elite tight ends in the NFL.

Atlanta's defense lacks a dominant pass-rusher and won't be confused with a dominant unit, but the Falcons' explosive offense atones for the mistakes made by its defense.

5. New England Patriots (11-4)

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick continue do what they do best—win.

Winners of the AFC East for the ninth time in the past 11 years and with a chance to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs, New England faces off against Miami, a team it has already dispatched once this season, a 23-16 win on the road in Week 13.

Like Green Bay and Atlanta, the Patriots' explosive offense (which ranks first in the NFL in points per game with 35.3) makes up for a streaky defense that looks awesome one week and average the next.

6. Washington Redskins (9-6) 

A pair of rookies, QB Robert Griffin III and RB Alfred Morris, have played to such a high level that the Redskins have been able to win despite having the 30th-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

Not only that, but the pair have the Redskins entering the season's final week with a chance to win the NFC East, something that hasn't been accomplished in Washington since 1999, when Brad Johnson was handing the ball off to Stephen Davis.

After losing six of its first nine games, Washington has won six games in a row and is supremely confident taking on the Dallas Cowboys in a game that will decide the NFC East at FedEx Field in our nation's capital on Sunday.

7. Baltimore Ravens (10-5)

We knew losing the heart and soul of the team, LB Ray Lewis, to injury earlier this season would have an impact on the Baltimore Ravens, but this is a team having a major identity crisis.

Are the Ravens the team that made the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants look like a high school JV squad in Week 16? Or are the Ravens the team that struggled to beat the Byron Leftwich-led Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11?

With the AFC North already decided, Baltimore's Week 17 division clash against the wild-card-bound Cincinnati Bengals, draft positions won't be decided until the playoffs begin.

8. San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1)

San Francisco is limping into the playoffs, both figuratively and literally.

Justin Smith, the team's defensive leader, is out with what Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says is a partially torn triceps muscle, while WR Mario Manningham is out for the season after shredding his knee (h/t Sporting News).

At this point, the 49ers can't be as concerned with beating the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 as the team is with getting out of the game without suffering another major injury.

9. Houston Texans (12-3) 

The Texans need a win against the upstart Indianapolis Colts in Week 17 to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs, but having lost two of its past three games, a victory on Sunday is far from a certainty.

QB Matt Schaub continues to prove he's incapable of putting the team on his back and leading it to victory, looking more like a game-manager than a playmaker under center.

J.J. Watt continues to dominate on the defensive side of the ball, but his teammates haven't followed suit, especially in the secondary, a group largely responsible for the Texans ranking only 16th in the NFL against the pass.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) 

Credit head coach Marvin Lewis for deciding to blow the Bengals' offense up two years ago and rebuilding with Andy Dalton under center and the dynamic A.J. Green on the outside catching passes. 

Cincinnati has won six of its last seven games and continues to prove it is a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

11. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

My pick for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award, QB Andrew Luck has led a team with two wins in 2011 to a 10-win season and a playoff berth in 2012, doing so while replacing a legend in Peyton Manning as the face of the franchise.

The Colts have overcome adversity all season long, whether it be the trials and tribulations of a rookie quarterback being asked to do far more than any other rookie in the league, or drawing strength and inspiration from head coach Chuck Pagano's successful battle against cancer.

12. Minnesota Vikings (9-6) 

As Adrian Peterson goes, so do the Vikings.

With Christian Ponder doing a pretty miserable impression of a starting-caliber NFL quarterback under center, Peterson enters the final game of the season with a chance to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record and get the Vikings into the playoffs.

Despite his best efforts, the Vikings will fall short of the mark against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, spending the next few months searching for a more viable option under center.

13. Dallas Cowboys (8-7) 

Tony Romo leads the Cowboys into Washington D.C on Sunday to take on the Redskins with a chance to get the Cowboys into the playoffs—and win the NFC East—hanging in the balance.

Romo has been playing the best football of his career as of late. He has a real chance to eclipse 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, and over his past seven games he has tossed 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions, leading the Cowboys to a 5-2 record over that stretch.

But Romo is 1-4 over the course of his career in elimination games, and while he'll put up points against a terrible Redskins passing defense, the Cowboys' defense will fail to contain Washintgon's Robert Griffin III and miss the playoffs.

14. New Orleans Saints (7-8)

The Saints' offense remains one of the most explosive in the league thanks to QB Drew Brees, WR Marques Colston and TE Jimmy Graham, among others, but New Orleans cannot play defense, ranking 29th against the run and 31st against the pass.

Brees hasn't been quite as sharp as we've come to expect, tossing a league-high 18 interceptions on the season. Brees will turn the ball over against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17, giving the Panthers' explosive dual-threat QB Cam Newton a short field to work with.

That's a recipe for a Saints loss to end the season.

15. Carolina Panthers (6-9)

After a rough start to the season, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are playing like the team that many believed would make the playoffs heading into the season.

Winners of four of its last five games, Carolina has outscored the opposition 105-54 during that stretch.

While the Saints are going to put points on the board (you don't stop Drew Brees), Newton and the Panthers will score just enough to escape defeat at the hands of New Orleans and fail to move up in the draft.

16. St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) 

St. Louis has won four of its last five games, but victory isn't in the cards for Sam Bradford and company in Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks.

It's obvious that Bradford desperately needs more weapons on offense—as well as an offensive line that can do a better job of keeping the pressure off him.

With two draft picks in the first round this year (the Rams own Washington's first-round pick), at least one of those picks will be in the first half of the first round.

17. New York Giants (8-7)

Words cannot do justice to how poorly the defending Super Bowl champions have played over the second half of the season.

New York has lost five of its last seven games, playing itself out of the race for the NFC East and leaving a playoff berth in serious doubt. Over the past two weeks against Atlanta and Baltimore, the Giants have been outscored 67-14.

Facing a Philadelphia Eagles team that is likely playing its last game with both Andy Reid and Michael Vick on the sidelines—and with Vick, who owns a 6-2 career record against the Giants starting in place of the injured Nick Foles—New York is going to end the 2012 season with a whimper.

18. Chicago Bears (9-6)

Like the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears wasted a strong start to the season with a miserable second-half performance, losing five of its last seven games and needing help from elsewhere to make the playoffs.

Unlike the Giants, Chicago will rise to the occasion on Sunday, beating the Detroit Lions and sneaking into the playoffs as the final wild-card team in the NFC.

19. Miami Dolphins (7-8)

Miami has some pieces in place on both sides of the ball, but a lack of weapons for QB Ryan Tannehill to target and a pass defense that ranks 25th in the NFL has cost the Dolphins dearly in 2012.

With a loss to the New England Patriots to end the season, Miami will move up a bit in the draft and have a chance to address those areas.

20. San Diego Chargers (6-9) 

Ideally, San Diego would lose its final game of the season and secure as high a draft pick as possible.

With needs on both sides of the ball, specifically the offensive line, the Chargers need to accumulate as much talent as possible heading into 2013

Unfortunately for the Chargers, the hapless Oakland Raiders will be on the other side fo the field in Week 17.

That's a win for San Diego.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

This has been a season to forget in Pittsburgh.

Ben Roethlisberger missed time with a handful of injuries, then, upon his return, threw interceptions that cost the Steelers a chance at wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys.

While the Steelers' defense remains one of the best units in the NFL, it's an aging one and could use more reinforcements.

With one win over the past six weeks, the Steelers will finish the season on a high note, getting the best of the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday.

22. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) 

It's likely the final game in the Eagles careers of both head coach Andy Reid and QB Michael Vick, but the pair will go out on a high note against the New York Giants on Sunday.

With starter Nick Foles is out with an injury, Vick, who is essentially auditioning for a job in 2013 in this game, will do what he's done six times over the course of his career—beat the Giants.

23. Cleveland Browns (5-10)

Cleveland has a solid core of players on both sides of the ball, but whether it's a matter of needing more talent, a different coaching staff or a combination of both, 2012 has not been a good season for the Browns.

While things haven't gone well in Pittsburgh this season, the Steelers are still the superior team and will send Cleveland to its 11th loss of the 2012 season in Week 17.

24. New York Jets (6-9)

The Jets are starting Mark Sanchez on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Contrary to head coach Rex Ryan's opinion, Sanchez does not give the Jets the best chance to win.

25. Detroit Lions (4-11)

Calvin Johnson may have broken Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record, but his team had little to celebrate about this season. 

Matthew Stafford took a big step back in 2012, posting an ugly 17-to-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Detroit's defense failed to stop anybody, surrendering 27.4 points per game. 

26. Buffalo Bills (5-10)

Despite erratic play from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and an underwhelming defense, Buffalo will end the 2012 season on a high note.

RB C.J Spiller has emerged as a big-time playmaker in the Bills' backfield this season, finally living up to the promise he showed while at Clemson University.

With the New York Jets ranking 27th against the run, a heavy dose of Spiller—coupled with Mark Sanchez starting under center for the Jets—will lead to a Bills victory in Week 17.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9)

Josh Freeman finally emerged as a big-time NFL quarterback, thanks largely in part to the arrivals of WR Vincent Jackson and rookie RB Doug Martin.

But Tampa Bay's defense is awful, ranking last in the NFL against the pass and a major reason why the Bucs are not heading to the playoffs.

With that being said, Tampa Bay faces an Atlanta team that figures to rest most of its starters, especially on offense, giving Tampa Bay a cheap win to end the season.

28. Tennessee Titans (5-10) 

Chris Johnson eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the fifth consecutive season, but Tennessee has major questions on both sides of the ball.

Fortunately for the Titans, the team they face in Week 17, the Jacksonville Jaguars, have even more questions waiting to be answered.

29. Oakland Raiders (4-11)

Carson Palmer was erratic under center, Darren McFadden couldn't stay on the field (again) and the Raiders' defense was nowhere to be found.

Once again, the Raiders will be drafting high in the draft. With any luck, maybe Oakland will get this first-round pick right.

30. Arizona Cardinals (5-10)

How bad are things in Arizona?

Larry Fitzgerald has become an afterthought.

It takes a new level of ineptitude to do that.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)

Jacksonville has some pieces on defense but, aside from WR Justin Blackmon, there's absolutely nothing going on with the Jaguars' offense.

The Jags desperately need a franchise QB, but unfortunately, there's only one QB worth taking high in the 2013 draft—and the team picking before the Jaguars needs a QB as well.

32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-13)

Kansas City has talent at the skill positions—except quarterback.

With a loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 17, the Chiefs will secure the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

Will it be West Virginia's Geno Smith to start under center for the Chiefs in 2013, or will Kansas City look to trade the pick to pick up additional selections in the draft?


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